Cigar Aficionado

A Cigar Smoker's Life

If you want to know one man's secret to longevity, you might study the life of John McMorran. Born in a log cabin in Imlay City, Michigan, on June 19, 1889, McMorran's owed his long life to a blend of hard work, fatty foods, and more than a pack of King Edward cigars a day. He died in Lakeland, Florida, on February 24th at the age of 113. At the time of his death, he was the oldest American. The oldest person in the world is 115-year-old Kamato Hongo of Japan.

According to Dr. Stephen Coles, of the UCLA School of Medicine (which is connected with the Gerontology Research Group), the life expectancy for a male at the turn of the twentieth century was between 45 and 49 years. "John McMorran had a family that was interested in his life and visited him every week," Dr. Coles said, pointing out that such care contributes to longevity.

Kenneth Shouler reached 60-year-old Bob McMorran recently to get his recollections about his grandfather.

Kenneth Shouler: I suppose people say to you that John had a long life and you shouldn't feel too bad about his passing.

Bob McMorran: Right. Everyone felt that he had a real good life and thought he was a good, calm person and had a long life and many good things happen to him.

KS: What kind of things did he like to do?

BM: Most of his life all he did was work. When he was young he used to ice fish in Michigan.

KS: Where else did he live besides Michigan?

BM: Well, he was born and raised in Imlay City in Lapeer County, Michigan. From there we moved to Leesburg, Florida and then to Lakeland.

KS: What are some of the memories of your grandfather?

BM: He raised me. Back then, he didn't have a lot of money. I didn't have anything fancy, but I never went without anything. We had clothes and never missed a meal on the table. We always had a good happy life and I never saw Grandpa get mad.

KS: Why did he raise you?

BM: My parents were divorced. My father worked at a job where he was gone a lot and my mother moved to Florida.

KS: Did you ever see the log cabin he was born in?

BM: No, but I have a picture of it.

KS: What did he do for a living?

BM: He farmed and then he hauled milk for Johnson & Johnson. Back then you didn't have cooler trucks, but he had the flatbed truck and went house to house collecting cans of milk, put a canvas over them, and every other house you put cold water on it to keep the milk cold. He also hoboed. He went out west as a hobo, did the train thing, and farmed and then came back home.

KS: As time went on, was he aware of his status as one of the oldest people in the United States?

BM: He was lucid up until his last nine months. Even then, he knew he was the oldest American. But some days were better than others over the last nine months, when his eyesight and hearing were failing.

KS: So he didn't suffer from Alzheimer's?

BM: No, he didn't. He even had surgery a little while back and the doctors and nurses couldn't believe how well he communicated with them and how he came out of the anesthetic right away. They couldn't believe it. They said he looked like someone in his eighties.

KS: Were you around him when he smoked?

BM: Yes, King Edward cigars. He had 'em in his pocket all the time when he drove his milk truck.

KS: So he smoked the whole pack of King Edwards in a day?

BM: More than a pack! Oh, more. He smoked 'em right down to the end, then he'd stick the remaining end in his pipe and smoked the last bit in his pipe.

KS: Did he smoke cigars even when you were a kid?

BM: Yes, I still remember when he drove trucks for this other gentleman. He drove a truck on what was called a bid route. It was a bid system—you would bid on an area route, from wherever you lived to the next town 100 miles away. He'd bid and go to all these little towns and pick up mail. There was no retirement out if it but he did that. But I used to wash the back window in his truck and it was like washing varnish off the glass from the smoke. So he smoked the King Edwards and Half and Half tobacco.

KS: When did he stop smoking cigars?

BM: He was in his late eighties or early nineties. I think he was 97 when he stopped smoking his pipe.

KS: Why did he stop?

BM: He said, "I thought I might fall asleep in my chair and have the ashes fall on me" So he quit cold turkey.

KS: What would he have thought of the coming smoking ban in Florida?

BM: Grandpa would have thought "What's the big fuss about? Why put everyone through this if it never bothered me?"

KS: He smoked cigars, drank beer and ate greasy food according to your daughter (Lisa Saxton).

BM: Plenty. He ate salt port, lard on bread—all that stuff.

KS: Lard on bread?

BM: That was your "butter"—you put lard from your bacon on bread. He didn't have heart trouble or high-blood pressure or anything.

KS: He also drank beer?

BM: He drank beer and hard liquor, but he probably quit drinking in his fifties.

KS: Lisa said he was never sick.

BM: He had been in the hospital only once in his life up until his last two years. Then he had two bladder surgeries, two years apart. But that was it. He'd never been sick. If he had a cold at home, he would cure that with a juice glass half filled with hot water and the other half with whiskey. He'd go lie down, cover up with some blankets, sweat it out and that was it.

KS: How long did his father live?

BM: His father died of pneumonia when he was a farmer and rancher, at about 35 years old.

KS: What are your favorite memories of your grandfather?

BM: He was always kind. If you got in trouble, he might scold you but you never got a spanking or anything. He was just a relaxed, calm person who always took care of me and fulfilled my needs when I needed something.

KS: When was his birthday?

BM: He would have been 114 on June 19.

KS: How long was he active and when did he need a wheelchair?

BM: He drove a car until his late eighties. He needed a wheelchair at about 103. He was walking around until then. He lived in a two-story building. They had an elevator, of course, but he came downstairs every day. He celebrated his 100th and 101st birthdays in Lakeland, Florida.

KS: What kinds of pastimes did he like?

BM: He played a Michigan card game called euchre. When he was younger, he played baseball.

KS: Was he a fan of any team?

BM: He was a Tigers fan. He knew of Sparky Anderson (the Tigers manager) because we lived near Detroit there.

KS: He must of known of Ty Cobb (who was born in 1886 and played for the Tigers), too!

BM: (Laughs) Yeah, I think he did. He worked such long days, six days a week, that he didn't have time to follow the old ballplayers too closely, though. He came from a long family of farmers. He worked hard all his life. He didn't retire until after he was 85.

KS: What events in history did he talk about?

BM: He talked mostly about modernization. Like his dad had one of the first bailers for hay. Grandpa had one of the first flatbed trucks. His first car was a 1912 Ford with a crank engine. When he was 28—which was too old to be drafted for World War I—he put in 20-hour days building bombs at a munitions factory in Detroit. He earned $1 an hour, which was darned good money in 1917. He lived through 21 presidents, from Benjamin Harrison to George W. Bush. He and his wife Matie celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 1963, but she passed away the next year.

KS: What did he die of?

BM: He had an infection in his bladder, but he died of pneumonia.

KS: Any other memories of him?

BM: One thing he told me was how, when he was young, a palm reader told him he'd live to be 111. Of course, he thought it was a big joke. But that palm reader was pretty close.

Kenneth Shouler, from Harrison, New York, wrote about Baseball's Greatest Hitters for an upcoming issue of Cigar Aficionado.