This Sacramento woman just turned 105: ‘Try to find the best things in life to enjoy’

She doesn’t drive anymore, and her heels are now 1 inch high instead of 5 inches. But as she turned 105 this week, Barbara Holman-Robinson of Sacramento said her key to longevity is simple.

“You can’t live a good long life when you’re drinking, doing dope, and all those things,” Holman-Robinson said. “If you continue to do that, it’s going to shorten your life. Try to find the best things in life to enjoy.”

Those things might occasionally include the double cheeseburger and a strawberry shortcake sundae that drifted by in a waiter’s hands before disappearing into a crowd of over 100 guests all dressed in white sitting at long tables at Leatherby’s Family Creamery on Arden Way in Sacramento on Monday.

“Aw, queen, you look so gorgeous!” said a friend, kissing Holman-Robinson on the temple.

At the seat of honor sat Holman-Robinson, surrounded by adoring family members and friends. She was dressed in all white and silver, and her glittery tiara and sparkly silver 1-inch heels made her stand out in a room full of lace and starched suits.

She nibbled on a small vanilla ice cream sundae paired with two miniature chocolate chip cookies, basking comfortably in the limelight.

On her 105th birthday, Holman-Robinson still remembered everyone’s names. She commands a sharp wit and a deep, energetic voice.

She greeted each guest with enthusiasm, smiling at multiple cameras, cooing at babies.

To many of the guests, some of whom flew from Virginia, San Diego and Los Angeles to attend the party, Holman-Robinson is a “mother.”

The entirety of her long life has been dedicated to the church. Her late husband was the pastor of the Christ Temple Apostolic Church at 9000 La Riviera Drive, and as the “first lady” of the church, she submerged herself in the community, becoming a pillar for many members of the congregation.

“I feel such an attachment,” said Tanya Lecky, a member of the Christ Temple Apostolic Church, at the party. “I don’t have much family left. She’s my mother.”

Marry Bennett Patts, another guest, met Holman-Robinson in 1976 when she sang in the church choir as a teenager. Patts was surprised that Holman-Robinson still remembers her.

“It’s like going home to a mother,” Patts said. “She never forgets her child.”

Lola Daniels, who sat a table away from Holman-Robinson’s seat of honor, flew from Burke, Virginia. “She’s been the mother I’ve never really had in my life,” Daniels said. “I didn’t have a mother or father, so although she’s not blood, she’s the mom I’ve never had. Nobody can take that from me.”

La Sonja Peisker, who traveled from San Diego, summarized the feelings of many women in the room.

“She taught us how to be godly women, how to be godly wives,” Peisker said. “She’s set an example for so many of us during our early 20s.”

Long before Holman-Robinson first set foot in Sacramento in 1936 after marrying her first husband, Robert Benjamin Holman, in Los Angeles, she grew up in Pasadena and later moved to Los Angeles with her family.

After her baptism at age 14, Holman-Robinson never looked back. That was when she dedicated her life to the church.

As a young girl, she used to take the streetcar late at night to attend nighttime church services, leaving early to finish her homework. She used to attend nearly every church meeting and function, often by herself.

“Church has been all my life,” Holman-Robinson said. “I’ve never been to a nightclub. I’ve never been on a dance floor. My church didn’t believe in it, and I was very faithful to my church.”

At age 22, she married Holman, and made the eight-hour drive to Sacramento.

“I was driving away from my home, and I just broke down crying,” Holman-Robinson said, tearing up. “I realized all of a sudden I was leaving my home. And I would never live here again.”

However, Holman-Robinson quickly acclimated to the hot weather and her new life in Sacramento.

“My roots have gone too deep,” Holman-Robinson said.

In Sacramento, her husband became the pastor of the Christ Temple Apostolic Church, and Holman-Robinson stitched herself into the fabric of the community, becoming not only a “mother” to everyone in her church, but to two children, Eileen Laverne Holman and Robert Benjamin Holman Jr.

Holman-Robinson pitched headfirst into rigorous work for the church, serving as the secretary of various church organizations, and as the president of the Women’s Organization and the Deacon and Minister’s Wives Organization.

“I loved being able to work in the church and do things for the Lord that I feel like he wants me to do,” she said.

Her door was always open to everyone, whether it was for conversation, help, or a cup of tea. Young women always approached Holman-Robinson when they got into some sort of trouble.

“I would tell them what to do and how to make it better,” she said. “I told them to follow the teachings of the Bible.”

It’s been years since Holman-Robinson was the first lady of the church, since her husband died in 1996. She married her second husband, Herbert Robinson, in 2000. He died last year.

Today, Holman-Robinson is still everyone’s “mother” and is just as devout as she had been during her tenure as first lady. She reads the Bible every morning and night. The day of her birthday party, she forgot her Bible at Atria Senior Living, where she has resided since 2014.

But she had a backup: “I have a Bible app on my iPhone,” Holman-Robinson said.

Before bed, Holman-Robinson loves to read the Book of Psalms and the New Testament, which she says is highly relevant to her life today.

“It’s going to help me make it to heaven,” Holman-Robinson said. “I’m expecting to go to heaven and meet him there. It’s about the Lord coming back to retrieve his disciples. I’m looking forward to being one of those.”

Holman-Robinson still faithfully attends church every Sunday for the 11 a.m. service. Although a friend now drives her, she was driving herself up until three years ago.

“I was a fast driver,” Holman-Robinson said. “They stopped me several times. They always said, ‘Lady, do you know how fast you were driving?’ I’d say, ‘No.’ They’d say, ‘You were driving over 87 miles. I think you’d better slow down.’

“I enjoyed driving. I hated to give it up.”

At her party at Leatherby’s, Holman-Robinson sat at her seat of honor with a sash draped across her chest, which read “105” in glittery beads. After she took a small bite of her vanilla sundae, her eyes lit up. There was a baby girl on her friend’s shoulder, and Holman-Robinson beckoned to her.

Holman-Robinson gave the baby girl a gentle kiss on the temple, her eyes still following the child even after she left Holman-Robinson’s side.

Angelique Reynolds, Holman-Robinson’s granddaughter, read aloud a dedication: “Mother Barbara Holman-Robinson is cherished because of her grace and her strength. She is a sweet inspiration of heaven gifted to us.”

A soft chorus of affirmation rippled through the crowd.

Candice Wang, from Yale, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee interested in climate change, sustainability, socioeconomic inequality, and culture. She grew up in Connecticut.