Julia Hawkins has been a mother for 73 years, giving birth for the first time on her 30th birthday, and now she is 103.
Such a long, healthy life is remarkable in itself, but Hawkins is also a decorated athlete who competes in the National Senior Olympics. She is believed to be the oldest woman to formally compete on an American track. Known as “Hurricane” Hawkins, she set a world record for her age category, running the 100-meter dash race in 39.62 seconds in 2017.
“I did biking all my life, and I did it in the National Senior Olympics before I did running,” Hawkins says. When biking became too difficult for her, at 100, Julia decided she would give running a try. “I found out I liked it and can still do it. That’s astonishing to me as well as to everybody else.”
Hawkins credits regular biking to keeping her legs, back and hips in good shape for running. “I’ve always ridden my bike almost every day of my life for exercise as well as just to get out and smell the flowers on the way,” she says. “I’m a big garden person.”
Her garden is planted outside the Baton Rouge house that she and her late husband, Murray, built themselves and where she still lives. The couple met as students on her first day at LSU. “It was eight years later before we got married,” she says.
Murray had been working at Pearl Harbor and was there when it was attacked on December 7, 1941. Murray then accepted a naval commission and wasn’t able to make it home for a wedding.
“A lot of people in Pearl Harbor were getting marriages by telephone,” Hawkins remembers. “We’d never heard of it.” She checked with the head of the LSU Law School to be sure it would be legal in Louisiana. It was, and the Hawkinses’ wedding-by-phone was the first in the state.
After the war, Murray taught at LSU, and the Hawkinses raised their family. “Marry a good man or good woman as the case may be,” Hawkins advises. “That’s what I had. I had a great man.” They were married for 70 years.
Hawkins was a teacher, including one year teaching in Honduras at a banana plantation before her marriage. “I brought an orchid collection and a monkey home with me,” she says. So it wasn’t a huge ask when later, one of her daughters asked for a monkey for her birthday. “You could buy them at the pet store back then!”
The Hawkins family had other adventures as well, including regular summers in Colorado Springs where Murray taught a geology camp. “All of that added to the pleasure of our life,” she says. “We did all kinds of neat things.”
All four Hawkins children, two boys and two girls, graduated from LSU. Hawkins has three living grandchildren and one great-grandson, Ender.
Hawkins published a memoir, It’s Been Wondrous, in 2017, and the written word is important to her. She and Murray wrote letters during the war, and she says re-reading his makes her feel young again. “We’re losing letters, and I want to urge people not to quit writing,” she says. “You can read them over and over, and they can mean so much not just to you but also to other generations.” ■