WILLIE SMALLWOOD grew up working on a tenant farm in rural North Carolina, toiling in the fields picking cotton and curing tobacco.

When she was born on Sept. 30, 1900, William McKinley was president and the Wright brothers were fooling around with what would turn out to be an airplane.

The South was rigorously segregated with all the horrors and humiliations inherent in that condition. And after Willie grew up, she fell for a man her family did not approve of.

The Lassiters beat their women, her family said. But Willie knew that Walter Lassiter would never beat her; they married and moved north to West Philadelphia in 1926.

Willie Lassiter died Monday. She was living at the Penn Center for Rehabilitation and Care, to which she moved in 1999, after suffering a stroke.

At 111, she was said to be the third-oldest Pennsylvanian, and the second-oldest Philadelphian.

Willie's grandparents were slaves, and her mother, Mary, was the child of Willie's black grandmother and a white slave owner.

Willie, who came from an age when neither women nor African-Americans could vote, lived to see a black man become president.

How did she live so long and endure the tribulations inherent in an often chaotic and violent world?

"She changed with the times," said her niece and only survivor, Lucille Murray. "She never complained. She had a happy life and a happy family. She was always young at heart."

As for conditions in the segregated South: "They were accepted," Lucille said. "They didn't know any better. It was just how it was."

In recent years, Willie was confined to a wheelchair, but that didn't dampen her spirits. "She was an old lady who never aged," Lucille said. "The people at the Penn Center adopted her. They spoiled her.

"Kids would come in just to see someone who was over 100. Being around young people kept her young. She was fun to be around."

Willie also was spoiled by all the attention 100-plus people get: write-ups in the press, interviews on radio and television.

Every year since she turned 100, the city celebrated her birthdays, one after the other, until her last one in September, when Mayor Nutter honored her with a cake bearing three "1" candles. She was as bright and funny as she had always been.

At her birthday party in 2008, when she turned 108, she was quoted in an Inquirer story by Annette John-Hall as saying, "They said at 100, you've seen it all. I say, you ain't seen nothing yet!"

She didn't drink and smoked only one cigarette in her life. That was when her husband lay dying of leukemia in a hospital in 1961 at age 66. She smoked it down to the filter.

Walter Lassiter had been employed as a U.S. Customs agent and was an Army veteran of World War I.

An uncle, John J. Smallwood, founded the Temperance Industrial and Collegiate Institute, a school for disadvantaged black students, in Richmond in 1892.

Willie worked for a time for the old Strawbridge's, but mostly was a devoted housewife.

Besides her ability to accept the things she couldn't change and her life of temperance, Willie always credited her faith for keeping her young and healthy.

She was a deaconess at Mount Olivet Tabernacle Baptist Church, in West Philadelphia, for 75 years.

Once when asked by a Today reporter for her secret of long life, she replied, "I had a good time just serving the Lord and doing his work."

Services: 11:30 a.m. Friday at Mount Olivet Tabernacle Baptist Church, 647 N. 42nd St. Burial will be in Beverly National Cemetery, Beverly, N.J.