“Hello,” he said as he entered his party at a ballroom in Hillcrest Heights, Md., to Stevie Wonder’s rendition of “Happy Birthday.” “Doctor Bishop comes through.”
The World War II veteran – nicknamed “Doc” as his family says he can fix almost anything – celebrated his centenary on Friday surrounded by dozens of family and friends. Bishop has so many descendants — 11 children, dozens of grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and even great-great-grandchildren — that his family has lost count.
If Bishop has learned any lessons from him over the past century, the most important are to put faith first and try to be good.
Meet the centenarian who has worked at the same company for 84 years
Bishop said he was born and raised in the small town of Bishopville, SC. He never met his father – he died before Bishop was born – and his mother died when he was barely a teenager. He was raised largely by his grandfather, who Bishop says was a preacher and taught him the importance of church and religion. Every Sunday he went to church.
He worked as a tenant farmer for most of his young life and dropped out of school before finishing the third grade. Later, his love of gardening led to a long career in landscaping. He is known in his family for being able to grow anything.
It’s been a good life, Bishop said. But Geneva Bishop, his eldest daughter, said he rarely shares his struggles with his family. Shareholding is hard work without much pay, she said, but he’s always managed to support his family.
“My father had to learn a lot of things himself,” she said. “But he always had a job, he always worked. I think that’s amazing for someone as uneducated as he was.”
He met his future wife, Rosa Mae Bishop, at church. Their marriage wasn’t always easy — the two faced Rosa Mae’s disapproving parents, moved from South Carolina to Washington, D.C., and helped raise grandchildren together, Geneva said. But they stayed by each other’s sides until Rosa Mae’s death in 1983.
Bishop volunteered for World War II service in 1942, he said. He was worried about leaving his family, but felt compelled to leave. He served overseas in Okinawa, working primarily in the kitchen but also as a quartermaster and jailer.
The family moved to DC in 1953, said Geneva, 74. They moved frequently as their family grew. Bishop now lives in Temple Hills, Maryland with one of his daughters, Comiller Brunson.
“We were happy,” said Geneva. “There were so many of us, so we stuck together. … It was wonderful.”
Bishop remained present in his children’s lives through both the happy and the difficult times. Brunson vividly recalls that when her first son, Arthur, was born with spinal meningitis, Bishop stayed by her side in the hospital, praying for her son and assuring her that he would be fine.
Arthur now has a particularly close bond with his grandfather. Bishop taught Arthur how to drive, the importance of hard work and the value of his faith. Bishop previously refused to let Arthur help with the landscaping, instead telling him he was “pro-the books”.
Ask any of his grandchildren and they will say that the greatest lessons they learned from Bishop were his tenacity and unwavering faith.
“He taught you that anything is possible,” said Brandon Cornelius Bishop, another grandchild.
And with Bishop happily celebrating his centenary surrounded by six of his surviving children and dozens of loving family members, maybe anything is possible.
“I did it,” said the former tenant and soldier. “I did that 100.”