Bernando Lapallo plans to celebrate his 113th birthday this year. The supercentenarian resident of Arizona lives to inspire people everywhere that they too can grow old, even very old, if only they live clean and healthy lives.
“Bernando continues to shop for himself, cook, bathe, shave without any assistance from anyone to help him in and out of the shower,” says Ekayani Erika Chamberlin, his assistant and granddaughter. “He walks a mile and a half every day to the park. He has all his hair and his teeth, but he has no wrinkles.”
Chamberlin attributes the longevity and robust health of her grandfather to her Brazilian-born great grandfather, a doctor and herbalist who taught his son very clearly what and how to eat and what bad habits to stay away from. “More than good genes my grandfather was given a set of rock solid principles in terms of a daily regimen. That is the real key I hope people will understand. There is just no way you can be reckless and expect to be in excellent health,” Chamberlin says.
Working through his granddaughter, Bernando LaPallo gave News Watch an interview about his recipe for a long and healthy life. We did not directly address some media controversy about his “real” age, in which by some accounts he is is 102 and not 112. The family stands by LaPallo’s birth date of 1901, citing an entry in the family bible and official documentary evidence. That Bernando LaPallo is well into his second century is not in dispute.
Not many people make it to 100, let alone 112. How much of this is in your genes? Is there longevity in your family?
Yes there is longevity in my family. My grandmother lived to be 107, my mother 105 and my daddy was 99 when he passed. On my mother’s side no one died under the age of 89 years, as far as I know. So you have to take care of your genes. It’s like owning a Rolls Royce and leaving it in the garage and not taking care of it. Fortunately, I had a daddy who taught me how to take care of my body. My longevity is due to my obedience and moderation. I have based my life on following what my father told me.
Everyone will want to know the secrets of living a long life, while remaining healthy and alert. What’s your advice about eating, exercise, stress, and just generally looking after yourself?
I eat plenty of fresh fruit and green vegetables, and I drink plenty of water. Water is very important. Exercise and sleep. Sleep is very important. Unless I am making a speech someplace, I’m generally in bed by 9:30. I get up at 3:30 or 4 in the morning, go for my walk, take my shower, rub my body down with olive oil, make my breakfast. Stress is a killer, my daddy told me that. It’s important to take time to relax and exercise your brain, such as by doing crossword puzzles. Everything I am telling you my daddy told me to do and I have followed his instructions for over a century.
Bernando LaPallo gives lectures and has published several books about living a healthy life. Some of his video lectures can be found on his Facebook page, while his latest book, Beyond 100: How to Live Well Into Your Second Century, can be downloaded from iTunes.
Tell us a little about your career. What kind of jobs did you have? Did you live a particularly active physical life?
I got my start in about 1924 working on the American Export Line. I worked the coastline from Boston to Miami and back. That was the first time I had a taste of working on the ocean liners. Then I advanced, going to Panama. That was the West Indian Line. The first stop was Cuba, and then we would go on to Puerto Rico and Panama, and then finally on to Buenos Aires, the end of the line. It was a 51-day cruise, if I remember right.
I was a chef all over the country. I worked at MacGuiness restaurant in Sheepshead Bay on Sutphin Boulevard near the courthouse in Jamaica, Queens. I worked in Wildwood — up and down the Jersey coast. Asbury Park, Atlantic City, Cape May — all up and down the Atlantic Coast. In Asbury Park I worked at the Asbury Carlton, the Ansonia Hotel.
I worked in the winter season in Florida for the Hage brothers. They were a Swedish family and had cafeteria-style restaurants in Saint Petersburg and West Palm Beach. I used to take the Orange Blossom Special from Pennsylvania Station in New York to the station in Saint Petersburg located on Second Avenue right in the heart of the colored section of town. Right across the street was Webb’s drugstore, a huge drugstore. That was in the 30s.
Later I went to the Swedish Institute of Massage and opened up my own practice in New York City. I also studied podiatry. Now I still work, by giving speeches to people about how I stay healthy. I’ve lived a long time. I’ve worked a long time.
It’s too valuable an opportunity to pass, so I want to ask you about your earliest memories of the world, the great political events and personalities of your lifetime, the new technologies that emerged across more than a century of a single memory. What are some of the highlights of your experiences?
Martin Luther King, Jr. was the turning point for me. In Alabama the governor had given orders to the soldiers to shoot anyone colored who tried to vote. I saw this on television with my wife Georgette. As the people were walking by, the soldiers wouldn’t shoot. MLK was standing right there telling them to go in and vote. Now that’s faith. All his actions I was interested in.
It’s difficult for me to remember all the details. There was so much racial stuff going on at the time. MLK shook up the whole country. He shook up half the world.
Another person I enjoyed meeting was the film star Gloria Swanson. She used to call me Champ on account of the fact that I was such a sharp dresser. I was introduced to her by a mutual friend, Louis Armstrong, when I was studying the culinary arts in Paris. In fact, she was the one who suggested I start wear a cologne called Zinzannie. Everybody loved it. It was powerful without being too strong. I wish I could get more of it but they stopped making it. If I’d known they’d stop making it I would have bought cases of it. Anyway, I have met so many people in my lifetime and I have outlived them all because they didn’t take care of their health and I did.
It’s been said that something’s gained and something’s lost in living every day. When you look back, what have we lost as a culture and civilization, and what have we gained?
We have gained recognition as human beings. Before Martin Luther King we really didn’t have that. If I wanted to I could write a whole book on black history. As I was born in Brazil I was taught that there was only one race: human. So when I came to this country and saw how people were being treated because of the color of their skin I became curious. The kids today, they don’t know their history and this is a loss.
Looking at it from your own point of view, what is the greatest blessing and the biggest challenge of growing old?
I’ve had a beautiful life. I’ve traveled all over the world from the age of 23 up until I was about 57 years old. I can’t even count the amount of countries I have set foot in. My brain was alert and it’s still alert. I can’t remember everything but still I am here with you today at the age of 112 able to explain these things as far as humanly possible. My greatest blessing was my father. He’s the reason why I am here today. I obeyed his orders in terms of living for over one hundred years. You see you are only alive a moment compared to the time you’re dead. Think about it. Why not cherish the time you are here? Remember if you don’t have your health you don’t have anything.
I have a vivid memory when I was a very young boy of my grandfather sitting at the feet of his mother, my great-grandmother, an elderly man sitting on the ground as if he was a little boy. What I remembered most was how much that showed that he respected and loved her. He certainly took care of her. Now I read and hear about the neglect and financial abuse of the elderly in the United States, sometimes by their own adult children. Have you observed society’s attitudes toward elders changed over your lifetime?
Oh yes. No question about that. One great thing my father told me is to treat people the way you want to be treated. I have done that and today I am being blessed with all this publicity. I love God and I know He loves me. If you stay healthy you won’t have to become a victim.Your health is very important. When I go and make speeches at old age homes I feel sorry for the people there. Their children don’t take time to visit them and they make excuses for them: “Oh they are busy. They have their lives.” I don’t understand how you cannot take the time to visit your mother or father. I feel very grateful that my family cares for me and let’s me know it. So many people don’t have that.
Tell us about your new book. What wisdom are you imparting and what is your overall message?
My first book was about me and my daddy, my travels and my top ten foods. The second book is out because people ask me about recipes, but they forget that I am mostly a vegetarian. I eat green vegetables, fruits and so on. So in this book I talk about different fruits and vegetables I like, their origin and their benefits. It doesn’t include every fruit and vegetable. That would take too long!
If you could, would you like to keep on living indefinitely? Do you feel you still have places to go, things to do and see?
As long as I have my right mind and don’t have to be in a wheelchair and can do things on my own, yes. If I have to be pushed around in a wheelchair as a way of life, no I don’t want it. We are told that we are made in the image of God so I have taken care of that image: Me. I’d like to show the younger generation how to take care of their body. But if God wants me to come home now, I am ready. I’ve tried to help people as much as I can.
We are all living older. Many if not most of the children of today will apparently live to at least 100. What is your overall message to a nation that is getting older?
Keep your colon clean and your liver clean, take care of your eyes and take care of your feet. If you do that you’ll stay healthy. I have done that and continue to do that and that is why I am here today. How many people do you know that are my age that are able to cook for themselves, bathe themselves, take a walk, shave and have the presence of mind to talk to you today as I am doing? You know the devil is busy. He’s out there working all the time. When I was a young man they were selling reefers, three for a quarter. This man told me to try it. “It’ll make you feel good.” I said “I feel good already.” He said “Aw man, you’re such a square.” But I am alive in good health and he is dead. So take care of your health, practice moderation and you’ll live a long and healthy life.
Bernando LaPallo’s official biography: He was born in Brazil on August 17, 1901 to American-born Mattie Carr and Brazilian-born Bernando LaPallo, Sr. The family moved to the United States in 1906 where Bernando raised by his father, a practicing doctor and herbalist in Philadelphia. He raised his own family in Harlem in New York City, later moving to Queens, where he resided with his wife Georgette. His primary interest was in food and he went on to study the culinary arts at the Sorbonne in Paris, graduating in 1928. After years of working as a chef on steam liners and at hotel resorts he retired from the culinary arts to pursue an interest in the healing arts. He studied massage at The Swedish Institute in New York City, and then went on to NYU to study and become licensed as a reflexologist and podiatrist. He completed that course of study at the age of 73. He had a successful private massage practice in New York City for more than 20 years, treating people from all walks of life. After living in New York for 90 years (and never being sick a day in his life there), he moved to North Carolina briefly before settling down in Arizona where he is a popular speaker on the secrets of his youthful vitality and health.
David Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.
He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.
Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship.