On May 29, 2019, Mayor Kenney and the city-sponsored a luncheon in the ballroom at Sugar House Casino to honor the city's centenarians. One of the honorees was Russell A. Harvey, a lifelong Northwest Philadelphia resident who at the time was Philadelphia’s oldest man at 103. But according to an article in Philadelphia Magazine article about the event, “Mr. Harvey wore a long black suit, striped black tie and pocket square and looked more like an octogenarian than a centenarian.”
In an interview with the Local at the time, Harvey recalled when horse-and-wagon traffic filled the streets of Northwest Philadelphia and when the Colonial, a movie house built in 1913 on the 5500 block of Germantown Avenue, drew children by the dozens to its Saturday afternoon feature films, newsreels, superhero serials and cartoons.
“I would go, even though we [black people] had to sit in the balcony,” he told us. “Sometimes, the (superhero serials like Superman) ended with cliffhangers, and you kept coming back to find out what happened.”
A widower, Harvey was married for 74 years. “My wife and I didn’t have much, but we worked together,” he said. “Vivian [Mrs. Harvey] was the first African American to work for Bell Telephone. She earned $19 a week, and I made 42 cents an hour on a construction job. Vivian was honored for being a pioneer by the Urban League.”
Harvey, who had two children — Constance Johnson, 82, and Albert Dixon, 86 — boiled down the secret of a good marriage to few words: “You have to pull together.”
A World War II veteran, Harvey once had a job that exposed him to a wide variety of people. “I was a barkeep,” he said. “I served drinks, but I didn’t drink myself except occasionally with friends.”
On the other hand, what one imbibes can promote longevity, he believed. He credited Philadelphia “spigot water” [tap water] with helping him reach such an advanced age. After his military service, Harvey and his wife moved to East Mt. Airy. He said he liked to repair things and would try everything imaginable before throwing something out.
In 2019 Harvey still drove a car, mowed his own lawn and even shoveled the snow in front of his house. He said he liked to eat at the Reading Terminal Market, go to South Philly, buy Italian bread and eat it “well-buttered.”
During the 2019 celebration of centenarians, Mt. Airy resident Valdreace Hutcherson, then
103 but spry and stylish, moved to tunes like “Baby Face,” a hit in 1926. “I worked as a secretary in the school system until I married in 1953,” she said.
After her children were grown, she changed careers. “I had a store at 22nd and Indiana, where I sold hosiery and other items,” she said. “I did that until the second time I was held up.”
Hutcherson said she thoroughly enjoyed life in the Northwest. “I had a house on Lincoln Drive until I got too old to live alone,” she said. “Now I live on Upsal Street, cook my own meals and have fun.”
On Friday, Jan. 8, Russell Harvey died of pneumonia at Chestnut Hill Hospital. Harvey was the oldest man in the city at age 105.
Harvey grew up in Germantown but dropped out of high school after his father died. At age 16 he laid railroad tracks, worked in construction, sold large blocks of ice on the street, tended bar and was a toll collector for several years at the Willow Grove exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Harvey won several medals for his service in the Army during World War II. He belonged to veterans' organizations and attended numerous veterans' events.
A private service for loved ones was held for him Jan. 18. Donations may be made in Harvey's name to the Disabled American Veterans, 5000 Wissahickon Ave., Phila., PA 19144.
Constance Garcia-Barrio contributed to this article.