Nfld. & Labrador·Video

'Wonderful place waiting, if I can get in': Sara Sexton still feisty at 95

A St. john's woman who's spent two decades educating people about HIV and AIDS after the death of her son turns 95 on Thursday, but she's not slowing down.

AIDS activist, storyteller, staunch Catholic — Sexton will celebrate birthday by bowling

Sara Sexton grew up in a family of 11, including nine brothers. Their photographs are displayed on an ornamental tree in her room. (CBC/Sherry Vivian)

A St. John's woman who has spent the past two decades educating people about HIV and AIDS after the death of her son turned 95 on Thursday. Sara Sexton will celebrate by going bowling with her family.

"I thank God every day for how good my life has been. I've met more good people than the bad ones. There's only been a few [bad people] and I never think of them," Sexton said, surrounded by flowers, birthday cards and photographs.

I think I've learned a lot of tolerance for an awful lot of stuff in this world.- Sara Sexton

Sexton, who grew up in a family of 11 — including nine brothers — likes to joke.

"I think we can't live without a sense of humour … it's like a cure, being able to laugh heartily," she told CBC's Debbie Cooper in a birthday interview.

Sexton's son, Tommy, liked to laugh too. One of Newfoundland and Labrador's best-known comedians, he died of AIDS in 1993 at age 36. His death focused attention on the disease, and his family raised money to build a shelter for others with HIV/AIDS, which opened in 2006.

Raising awareness and money for the cause is still a big part of Sexton's life. It also figures in how she views what might be next.

The aids activist, storyteller, and mother of the late Tommy Sexton is celebrating her 95th birthday this week. 5:05

"Dying … I think about it every day," she stated bluntly, a smirk creeping onto her face.

"I think there's a wonderful place waiting, if I can get in. I'm hoping they'll accept me, and besides Tommy is up there and I know Tommy can make even God laugh."

Patience and a good game of Scrabble

Anyone who knows Sexton would appreciate the humour in that remark. If faith can win your way in Heaven, then Sexton is a shoo-in. A devout Catholic, she got advance birthday hugs from all the children at mass this past Sunday.

"I'm being truthful when I say it's the biggest part of my life," she said of her faith, although she admitted to plenty of slaps from the nuns as a child for her "grins."

Sexton shows Here & Now host Debbie Cooper some family photographs as she talks about turning 95 and how she still enjoys life. (CBC/Gary Quigley)

At 95, Sexton lives in her own home with her daughter and manages her own money.

She corresponds, in writing, with a variety of her family's younger members, and has a pen pal in Halifax who she said is "probably gay." To keep her mind sharp, she likes a good game of Scrabble or cribbage.

As for lessons learned, "I think I've learned a lot of tolerance for an awful lot of stuff in this world." 

Patience is also something that came later in life.

"I've learned to be very patient. I wasn't patient when I was a small child because I was a girl among many men and I had to stand up for myself."

Sexton doesn't want any gifts for her birthday. After the bowling, she'll put on her dancing shoes for a second night of celebrating on Friday at the legion in Pleasantville.

"I'll try to hobble out and get a little waltz thrown in."

About the Author

Marilyn Boone is a producer who works with the CBC bureau in St. John's.

With files from Debbie Cooper