When one sits with Lillian Skarsten Mortimer, you are instantly struck by the twinkle in her bright blue eyes, her candid and open demeanor, and how her conversations are punctuated by a remarkable wit and intelligence. Learning Lillian is 106 years old takes your breath away. 

With a life spanning more than a century, Lillian has a lot to share. When this East Cobb resident was born, Woodrow Wilson was president, the U.S. was entering  WW1, the Spanish Flu was spreading and the Bolsheviks had just overthrown the Russian Czar.  

Lillian is very keyed into those around her and appears decades younger than her years. When asked why she’s been blessed with such incredible longevity, she exclaims with a bright smile, “I really don’t know!”  


So, what lessons can we learn from Lillian about  health, wellness, and navigating the twists and turns  of life?  

Lillian was born in New Jersey in February of 1917, the  middle sibling of three children. Her parents emigrated to  this country from Norway separately around 1912. Oline  Larsen Andersen Lovignes and Andrew Skarsten were  Norwegian immigrants, a part of the large population  of Norwegians who came to work on the docks and  shipyards in the New York City area in the early 1900s.  Though the family spoke Norwegian at home, Lillian’s  parents were very keen to learn English and blend into  their new home country.  


Did something in her childhood contribute to Lillian’s  long life? Staying active was a part of a child’s world  back then Lillian explains, “Children were outdoors all  the time. We played jacks, hopscotch, and games in the  streets.” She and her brothers, Olav and Albert, walked  to school every day, she says “There were no school  buses back then.” Her favorite subjects were geography,  math, reading and writing and she was always a mem ber of her local library. She also spent much of her sum mer swimming in the local pool; a practice she continues  to this day, swimming regularly.  


Was there a magic to Lillian’s diet growing up that  contributed to her long life? Lillian says they didn’t have  much to eat when she was a child living in New Jersey  and Brooklyn, NY during the Depression. What food they  had was wholesome, she says — milk, cheese, potatoes,  protein, and limited sweets. “Sometimes we each had  a Hershey bar on Sundays, but besides that, we had no  desserts.”  

Lillian grew up in a single-parent home for much of  her youth and explains that resources were limited. One  Christmas, there was not enough money to go around  to purchase gifts for everyone. Lillian got a hairbrush, but  her brothers got nothing. That said, she was proud that,  with “no man’s income” her mother had “kept them  together,” and they were not separated. That was some thing to be thankful for that Christmas. 

Asked if she feels she’s more resilient due to hard ships in the early years, Lillian says, “I supposed I learned  not to dwell on bad stuff or over analyze things. I just  keep moving.” She says there have been times she’d like  things to be different, but instead, she chooses to focus  on the positive.  


Lillian has always kept her mind active. She gradu ated from high school in 1935 and her first job was at a  department store on 5th Avenue in New York City. “I just  walked off the subway and applied,” she says. Later,  Lillian worked at National Allied and Chemical Company  in something called, “mechanical accounting.” This was  in the early 1940s and Lillian worked in a room filled with  huge machines, punch cards, and sorters. Today, we call  them “computers.”  

Once Lillian married and moved out of NYC,  she began to establish life with her husband, Herbert  Mortimer, and her daughter Lynn in New Jersey. She relates how Herbert’s commute — walking from house  to bus, to a ferry, to cross to the river to NYC, then to the  subway, and then walking blocks to his office took him 1  and 3/4 hours each day each way. What a contrast to  those in 2023 working from their dining rooms! 


After she was widowed in the 1980s, Lillian learned  she had the skills to live on her own. She could balance  a checkbook, pay bills, and shovel snow. It was a differ ent life, she says, but she cherished the independence  and self-sufficiency she had found within her.  

She also enjoys the independence she still has at  her senior living community, “I’ve been able to set  up my own life and do something every day. I play  cards, participate in bible study, and art classes, read,  walk, keep my regular hair appointment each week,  and go to church on Sundays.” She also enjoys fre quent visits from her extended family who live in the  area: her daughter, Lynn, two granddaughters, and six  great-grandchildren.  


Lillian’s incredible life has spanned the major mile stones of the 20th century. Living through the Great  Depression, two world wars, and major developments  in medicine, technology, and human behavior. She has  weathered challenges — colon cancer at age 99 and  even now is recovering from a fall while getting in her  cherished twice-weekly swim.  

But, her resiliency and curiosity about life shine in her  blue eyes. Her incredibly long life could be due to many  variables she thinks: genetics, her positive attitude, or  even the scarcity of food and resources in her youth.  Who knows? But, Lillian is curious enough to keep asking  herself, “What is my purpose in still being here? There  must be a reason.” She can’t answer that question,  yet. But, lucky for us, until she does, we’ll all continue to  enjoy this East Cobb treasure.