Work key to long life for 102-year-old judge

03/01/2010 12:00 AM

08/05/2014 5:59 PM

Judge Wesley Brown began working at about age 10, after his father fell ill and he had to help support his family. That was about 1917, and the federal judge in Wichita said that beginning work at a young age is one reason he's still showing up to the courthouse every day at 102.

"I've worked all my life," Brown said recently in an interview. "I wouldn't know what else to do."

His long career could be one of the reasons Brown has exceeded the average life expectancy by more than two decades.

A report by the Harvard Medical School said the number of people living to 100 and beyond doubled in the past two decades. Brown is one of about 70,000 Americans 100 or more years old.

Brown has been an avid golfer and until recently took the stairs every day to his fourth-floor office — the top floor at the federal courthouse.

"People who live to 100 and beyond exercise their brains, too, by reading, painting, and playing musical instruments," said the Harvard paper, "Living to 100: What's the Secret." "Some continue to work, an indication that our love affair with retirement may be a mixed blessing."

Brown's job as a judge certainly challenges his intellect, dealing with complicated issues of law over time.

Appointed by John F. Kennedy in 1962, Brown served as a federal judge through the civil rights era and 10 presidents. Brown was born in 1907 — a couple of months after the first musical broadcast on radio. The technology achievement that year: The first helicopter lifted off — four years after the Wright Brothers took the first flight.

He's seen the advent of radio, television and the Internet.

"It's progressed like the multiplication tables," Brown said of technology. "If you start doubling something, you get up to pretty high numbers pretty fast. And communication has done that."

As a judge, Brown finds it fascinating that people still argue about privacy issues with the Internet. He remembers when no one had privacy on the telephone.

People cranked the ringer on the wall in Brown's youth, and every phone in town would ring.

"You'd call a central operator, in the early days, and she knew about what everybody was doing all over the community," Brown said.

Today, Brown stays plugged in with his computer, his cell phone, and the realization that privacy comes and goes with every new innovation.

"I don't know what secrets we can have these days," Brown said. "And I've sort of decided to live my life on the basis of there's no secrets."

Except maybe the secret of living a healthy life for more than a century.

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