by: Nancy Flores, Austin American-Statesman
AUSTIN – On most afternoons you can find Richard Overton perched on his East Austin home’s elevated porch, overlooking Hamilton Avenue, listening to R&B and smoking his beloved cigars.
Passers-by wave when they spot him outside the home he’s lived in for the past 72 years. Overton, America’s oldest living World War II veteran, enjoys being the neighborhood king from the porch chair that’s become his throne.
On Thursday, Overton will celebrate his 111th birthday with a neighborhood block party that starts at 3 p.m. Don’t forget to bring the whiskey. He likes adding a bit to his coffee in the mornings. Don’t worry, he said, “I like any kind you’ll bring me.”
The Austin City Council in April passed a resolution to give Hamilton Avenue the honorary street name Richard Overton Avenue, and party guests can check out the new street signs at the celebration. The Blackshear Neighborhood Association and Austin’s Commission on Veterans Affairs initiated the honorary naming process.
“It’s also important to the community that treasures him,” District 1 Council Member Ora Houston said.
Overton, who was born in Bastrop County in 1906, served in the Pacific Theater with the Army’s all-black 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion from 1942 to 1945.
Now Overton soaks up the celebrity status he’s earned in his twilight years. In 2013, he met President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House, he’s been featured in “Cigar Aficionado: The Good Life Magazine for Men” alongside Vince Vaughn, and in Overton’s living room there’s a framed camouflage San Antonio Spurs jersey made for him with the number “110” in honor of his last birthday.
“It’s all right,” he said of his fame. “It’s something different. I like it.”
Biden recently stopped to see him at his house. “It was a nice visit. I just talk to him like I do to you,” Overton said. “He’s human.”
In December, Overton’s family launched a GoFundMe page to hire around-the-clock home health care. Donations poured in from across the country, but have now stalled at about $169,000 of its $200,000 goal.
“It’s people who donate who help keep him on this porch,” said Volton Overton Jr, son of a 1960s Austin civil rights leader and Overton’s cousin. Since hiring the home health care, his family has noticed that Overton has gained weight and seems sharper. They hope additional donations will help fund continuous care.
With a lit cigar in his left hand, Overton spontaneously hums while the smoke swirls around him. By 3 p.m. on a recent afternoon, he already had smoked about six or seven cigars.
“But I don’t inhale,” he said. “I still feel the same smoking as I did when I was 18. If anything, I’m a stronger smoker now. Oh, yeah. I blow out.”
Overton has learned to savor the little things in life he relishes, like catfish, gravy, corn, hamburgers and macaroni and cheese.
“You’ve gotta learn to treat yourself, you know?”