ALEXANDRIA, VA–Ada Nelson was born in Rome, Italy in 1920. 100 years later, she finds herself celebrating her century birthday in Alexandria, Virginia.
Ada lives at The Hermitage Northern Virginia Retirement Community in Alexandria. When The Zebra heard they were ‘planning some party outside her window with balloons and friends,’ we knew we had to meet the one-century-woman. It is not every day someone turns 100, and it is even more rare to see someone celebrate turning 100 amidst a global pandemic.
I spoke with Betty Peebles, close friend of Ada, over the phone about her friendship with Ada and the details of the upcoming party. “She’s absolutely lovely, dramatically beautiful, sophisticated. She lit up my life,” says Betty. “So whatever we can do to make her happy, we are going to do.”
Upon meeting Ada, the first thing she said to me was, “If you’re asking me what I did to get here, I did nothing in particular, but it could be my Mediterranean diet and my love of pasta in any shape or form.”
Ada never thought she would make it this far. She “just lived normally.”
She has had anything but a “normal” life by conventional standards, though.
Born in Rome, Italy, in an old part of the ancient city, Ada spent most of her childhood with her au pair, Ms. Gannon, from whom she learned English at the age of six.
When she grew older, Ada attended boarding school in Florence, Italy, until the age of seventeen.
Then came the war. World War II. It brought much strife to Italy and to the world, but not all was to be dismissed. For it was during the war years that Ada met her husband, Robert (Bob). In fact, they met at a party. He was a dapper American officer in the Army; she was a young lady. They were both looking for a reprieve from the hardships of the times, and within each other, they found it.
In 1947, they married. “We couldn’t wait,” says Ada.
They moved to Wilmington, Delaware, and had a son, Alessandro. They brought their son back to Rome, Italy and had a daughter, Daria, in 1958. The family grew together in Italy, until Daria attended college in the U.S. at the University of Virginia.
After Daria’s graduation, Ada and Bob moved to Lexington, Virginia in 1979 to be closer to her and in 1992 landed in Alexandria.
Having traversed the Atlantic Ocean by ship and air starting in the 1940’s up to the early 2000’s, Ada was drawn back to the historic beauty and quaint charm of the East Coast.
“Lexington was quaint and pastoral, mom up to her 80’s would take the DASH bus to downtown to get the feel of city life. We love Old Town… Mom is a city gal,” explains Daria.
In the city she has called home for almost two-and-a-half decades, the family rang in Ada’s 99th birthday with a big bash. Ada’s son and some other family members came over from Italy, and her son gave her a bouquet of 99 long-stem, red roses.
This year, both the city and the party looked different for obvious reasons.
For Ada’s 100th, a few close friends and family, including daughter Daria, granddaughter Nathalie, and friend Betty, socially-distanced at The Hermitage. The party ensued with a sheet cake, flowers, gifts, a myriad of birthday cards from friends unable to attend, and video-chatting with her son, daughter-in-law, and grandson.
Ada’s son did manage to surprise her with one gold-dipped, long-stem rose and matching pin to round out last year’s bouquet of 99 roses.
The anything-but-normal year of 2020 called for an unconventional celebration. Nevertheless, Ada proclaims, “It was a beautiful party. I am very grateful for my family and friends near and far.”