Virginia Wade Ames, 102, is an artist and an author with lots of life lessons. Monday December 12, 2016. Mamta Popat / Arizona Daily Star

Mamta Popat / Arizona Daily Star

Virginia Wade Ames has seen a lot of New Years. 

About a century's worth, in fact. 

Ames is 102. That means she was 2 years old 100 years ago when the world rang-in 1917. 

In her lifetime, she has seen two world wars, women's suffrage, the first man on the moon, the Civil Rights Movement and a world where wearing knee-length skirts made a radical fashion statement. 


Virginia Wade Ames, 1935. Photo by Harry C. Kasson

"I was aware of what was going on in the 1920s when the world changed more than it has in any other period, in my opinion," Ames says. "I remember my mother's skirts touching her ankles." 

But not for long. As the 20s roared in, her mother shortened her skirts and bobbed her hair to get with the times. 

"It's been a century of change," Ames says.


Virginia Wade Ames in her wedding dress, October 1936. Photo by Bacherach, Cincinnati OH.

So she wrote it all down, and at the age of 99, had her first book published  "The Wayfarers: Journeying through a Century of Change." 

"She uses a (1970s) trip across the country and all of the mishaps of the car to string together anecdotes and recollections of her whole life and discussions of issues like transportation, communication, space travel and race relations," says Ames' daughter Martha Ames Burgess. "She was born in Alabama and has seen a lot. She strung these anecdotes like beads on the necklace of that trip." 

But writing is not Ames' first love. She's been artist since first grade, when a teacher praised her drawing of the playground. Over the years she has experimented with silkscreen prints; ceramics; watercolor, pastel and acrylic paintings; drawings and rubbings, among other media.


Kennedy Center Opening Night--watercolor 1970s by Virginia Wade Ames

In her retirement, she spent some time teaching art for the University of Arizona's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. 

One of her artistic highlights was her commission to replicate the flags of the American Revolution for the Library of Congress for the U.S. Bicentennial. She also played a key role in the establishment of the Alexandria Torpedo Factory Art Center.


Pueblo Women--silkscreen print 1960s by Virginia Wade Ames

She turned to writing in her later years as her eyesight failed — a result of macular degeneration. Outside of "The Wayfarers," Ames has written "The Art and Adventure of Making Rubbings" and the children's book "Bo and the Fly-Away Kite," based on her grandson and husband. "Bo and the Fly-Away Kite" is multilingual, with the story in English, Spanish and the O'odham language on each page. 

The centenarian moved to Tucson from Alexandria, Virginia in 1983 and fell in love with the desert. 

Ames has lived a rich life, as an artist, wife and mother of three girls. Heart complications recently rendered her bedridden, but already she is doing exercises to get back at it. One of the final sections of "The Wayfarers" is titled "Some Things I Have Learned." 

We could think of no better way to launch the new year than to hear from someone who has seen a century of them go by "really fast," Ames says. 

Here are five snippets of wisdom from a conversation we had with Virginia Wade Ames in the fall. 

Give back 

"Well, if you want the truth, I feel so blessed to be able to think and to do that I'd feel guilty if I didn't do something for somebody else. It's a strange thing that came over me. What can you do for the people in this world who have made it so wonderful for me? And the answer is the only thing I know how to do well is the gift of my talents, so I've been painting and writing and doing everything by inspiration, and it's kept me happy." 

Notice the desert's beauty 

"I left my home in Virginia with a little bit of drag on my heart, and I haven't been sorry since I moved to Tucson in 1983. ... It's a whole new world." 

Encourage a child 

"I know what turned me into an artist. It was a teacher. She said when we were in first grade, 'You can go out and play on the playground, and when you come in, draw what you saw out there.' And she went down the aisle and congratulated each child, and when she got to me, she found I had drawn the entire playground with stick men on all of the equipment, and she was so excited and didn't dare make the other kids feel bad, so she didn't say anything, she just lifted me up with a hug and pulled me out of the desk, and I thought at that moment I wanted to be able to draw anything. I think you always have somebody in your life who turns it around when you're a child." 


"The most important thing I think I learned is that we are so busy we never take time to stop and lie in the grass. Slow down and give yourself time. Daydreaming is more important than being wildly busy all the time." 

When you're overwhelmed... 

Editor's note: We pulled this life lesson straight from Ames' book "The Wayfarers." 

"When I am overwhelmed by our problems, I find it helpful to do two things.

"I think of some small task I can do toward solving just one problem.

"Some people think, 'What difference does my one little action make?' But joined with similar actions by more people, change can and does happen. Courage and energy are increased even when incremental progress is made in the right direction. 

"Next, I ask myself to consider the unbelievable number of things for which I am profoundly grateful.

"I am grateful that we have curiosity, which makes us explore and learn new things. 

"I am grateful for our capacity for speech and language, so we are able to share our knowledge and feelings with one another. 

"I am grateful for compassion that makes me mindful of the needs of our fellow man and all living things. 

"I am grateful that life began at all. We may be interested in the when and the how of the beginning of life on our planet, but while we argue among ourselves over who has the truth about the when and the how of the origins of life — in a muddy pool on our planet, or in the hot depths of the Pacific where there's no sunlight, or riding in from space on a dirty snowball, or from Adam's rib — we lose sight of the unbelievable miracle that life began at all. 

"I am grateful that I am conscious of existing, that I can enjoy and share what I have learned with others, that I can learn from the past, and that I can plan for the future. 

"I am most grateful for the capacity to love, for love keeps us from being lonely in this crazy, wonderful old world. 

"And now, with gratitude, I turn over responsibility to you to keep this crazy, vibrant, old world going." 

Happy New Year.