Keys to 100 healthy years: friends, active lifestyle

CHARLESTON—People are always asking Margaret Sheedy what the secret is to a long and healthy life, and she has several answers, from good genes to healthy living. Maybe it’s just her positive attitude. Whatever it is, the secret seems to work for her.

Mrs. Sheedy, who just celebrated her 100th birthday with a huge bash at Our Lady of Good Counsel on Folly Beach, is more active than many people half her age and in amazing health.

She only takes two prescription medications, and her one and only round of antibiotics her entire life came at age 93.

Although she stopped driving recently, Mrs. Sheedy is still on the go with church groups and community activities. Her family and friends say they have to make a date to see her.

“The whole secret to a long life is having good friends and keep busy and keep active,” she said.

Being involved is the story of her life, from the time she was a girl in Columbia and attended Ursuline Academy, which is now Cardinal Newman. The centenarian smiles and talks about her love of the church and how it has always been her second family.

Margaret SheedyWhen she was a junior in high school and an accomplished pianist, her pastor requested that she play organ. So she went to the church each day and practiced until she mastered it.

“That’s how it was in those days. When a priest spoke, you jumped,” Mrs. Sheedy said.

She moved to Charleston in 1939 with her husband John and said she was pretty homesick at first, and used her railroad pass to go home every weekend. Eventually she settled into life on Church Street and made friends at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

Mrs. Sheedy has many fond memories from those days. She recalls Sunday as a social event when all the Catholics came out their doors at the same time and walked together to Mass, laughing and chatting. She remembers children playing safely in the streets and playgrounds, and strolling her babies to Washington Park with friends. She misses walking into corner groceries and drugstores and knowing everybody inside, and driving to Summerville and Bonneau with religious sisters to teach Sunday school and play the organ.

“Those were good days,” she said, smiling.

Life is more hectic now, but she still has good friends and good times.

After spending most of her life at the Cathedral, Mrs. Sheedy said she received a call from the pastor of Our Lady, who asked if she would come to their church to play organ. She’s been there now for 17 years and has a whole other church family and a new batch of memories.

For her birthday celebration, all of her relatives came to town and surprised her with a limo ride to the church. Mrs. Sheedy has raised three daughters, and has seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

“It was so wonderful,” she said. “It was the first time we’d all been together in years.”

Her grandson, Matt Heissenbuttle, said his grandmother is amazing. She goes to lunch and other outings about four times a week and is still involved with choir.

Mrs. Sheedy said she had to temporarily retire from the organ a few months ago, but plans to go back as soon as her eye trouble clears.

“I just thank God for my good health and good friends and family,” she said.

“And we all thank God for having Margaret in our life,” Mrs. Hens responded.