Francis Smith walked into the gym around 10 a.m., just like any other Wednesday. He works out three times a week, and tends to keep to a routine. Smith’s wife Priscilla drove him, as she always does, from the mobile home they own at Naples Estates, off Rattlesnake Hammock Road.
This Wednesday, though, the staff at Planet Fitness threw him a little party. And why not? It’s not every day a guy turns 102.
Smith completed an abbreviated workout, shorter than his typical half hour of cardio, stretching and weight training, and sat down to have a little birthday cake and greet well-wishers.
“They’re wonderful here. This is almost a family affair,” he said. “You get to meet so many nice people.”
Smith’s endorsement of Planet Fitness came even before gym manager Ken Small presented him with a lifetime membership for both Priscilla and himself.
When asked the inevitable question for a centenarian, to what does he owe his longevity, Francis Smith was ready with his stock answer — “Jack Daniels Old Number Seven and loose women,” he said.
After a moment, he added, “The main reason is the genes my parents gave me, I guess. My mother lived to 99, and I had a cousin who reached 100. And I’ve never suffered any serious disease.”
Standing next to him, Priscilla had her own answer — “He met me.”
In addition to Francis Smith’s 102nd birthday, Wednesday marked the couple’s 27th wedding anniversary. They met on a windjammer cruise, off the coast of their native Maine, after he was widowed at age 67. The two still go on cruises annually, and recently returned from the Caribbean.
Priscilla is only 76, but said the age difference was never an issue.
“I was never a child bride. He had the same activity level, the same energy,” she said. “When he was 85, he was putting siding on our house.”
“She’s the best thing that ever happened to him,” said Robert Smith, Francis’ son, who flew down from Maine for the occasion. The “baby” of the family at 60, Robert has two older brothers. He said his father’s continued vitality comes from intellectual curiosity and staying involved.
“A lot of it has to do with mental attitude,” said Robert Smith. “He’s a remarkable man in many ways.”
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Colby College, Francis Smith played first chair violin for the New England Conservatory of Music. He worked many years for the Hammond Organ Company, and spent the majority of his career as an electronic engineer.
A lifelong sailor, Francis Smith owned a series of sloops, from a 19-foot Lightning he built himself, to a 38-foot racing boat. After retirement, he became a navigation instructor for the U.S. Power Squadron.
Now, in addition to working out, he volunteers for security patrol at Naples Estates, and, he said, “spends a fair amount of time reading.”
He recently finished “The Outsiders,” which he called “a very fascinating study of why certain people exceed the norm.”
Francis Smith has certainly exceeded the norm himself. He doesn’t look a day over 85. Smith appears sharp as a tack, walks erect, and wears bifocals but no hearing aids. His primary trainer at Planet Fitness, Anthony Vessecchia of Body Crafters, Inc., rattled off some of Smith’s typical workout routine.
“He does a full body workout, with circuit training, upper and lower body, and some abdominals,” said Vessecchia. “He does the shoulder, chest, and leg press, bicep and ab curls, and leg extensions. He’s pretty much spun off — he does it on his own, now.”
As has become their custom, Vessecchia will take his oldest pupil to dinner for his birthday. “I think we’ll wind up at Chops this year,” he said.
On the hundreds of exercise machines at Planet Fitness, the pedaling and stepping never stopped, although many patrons came over to offer their congratulations to Francis. And the tempting layer cake didn’t get a lot of takers. These people know how much work it takes to burn off a few extra calories.
Planet Fitness’ Ken Small emphasized his gym welcomes exercisers of all shapes and levels. “We’re non-intimidating here,” he said. “It’s judgment-free, and we don’t cater to body builders.”
Small did see one downside to the birthday hoopla for Francis Smith. “We’ve set a precedent. Every time someone turns 102, we’ll have to do it again,” he said.