Bed-Stuy Centenarian Remembers Life of Adventure at Birthday Party

By Paul DeBenedetto on July 1, 2014 8:50am 

Slideshow
 Egbert King turned 100 on June 13. Friends and family celebrated during a block party on Saturday.
Friends and Family Helped Celebrate the Life of Egbert King, Who Turned 100 in June
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BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — The year 1914 marked the introduction of Doublemint gum, the release of Cecil B. Demille's first film and the start of World War I.

June 13 of that year also marked the birth of Egbert King, who on Saturday celebrated his 100th birthday with friends and family during a block party on Willoughby Avenue, the Bed-Stuy street on which the centenarian has lived for more than 60 years.

In his 100 years, the Caribbean-born King has loved and lost and traveled the globe — always returning to the city he called home.

"I've been to England, Africa, Australia," King said. "I didn't have any favorite but here."

Born on the island of St. Vincent in the Caribbean, King left his home and his family in the 1930s and joined the Merchant Marines, which operated ships out of a local port.

From there he traveled to countries all over the world, indulging in foreign cultures, collecting artifacts and meeting new people — including his close friend, another Caribbean-born Merchant Marine named George Chollette.

The two men shared adventures delivering ammunition during World War II — including a harrowing stop in Russia for more than a year on suspicion of being aboard a spy ship, according to family members.

Eventually the two made their way to New York, where King grew infatuated by the city. He knew he would never return to his home island.

"I didn't intend to go back," King said.

So around 1949 King moved to Willoughby Avenue, between Nostrand and Marcy avenues, and married Chollette's sister, Annie. They became one of the first black families to live on the block.

King would still be gone for long periods traveling on merchant ships. On one such trip to Japan, he brought the whole family back traditional kimonos.

"He'd come back and tell us the experiences that he had," said Emma Chollette-Fraser, 58, King's niece who is now the block association president. "He used to bring home elephants, giraffes — nice artifacts."

"Very loving, very kind," Chollette-Fraser said of her uncle. "My aunt unfortunately succumbed to cancer. He was there with her for the whole duration."

Asked what he remembers most fondly in his life and travels, King declined to name any one moment.

"I've got to meet some beautiful people," King said.

"Every day was happy to me."

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