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Voter still doing her duty at 101

A centenarian citizen, Patricia Bitare is dedicated to the virtues of having a voice at the ballot box.

By JOUNICE L. NEALY

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 7, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Patricia Bitare takes Election Day seriously.

photo
[Times photo: Fred Victorin]
Patricia "Lola" Bitare plays handheld computer games to keep her mind sharp.
At 101 years old, Mrs. Bitare hardly hears and barely walks, but she will make it to the polls today because she has lived through times when there were even greater struggles to get there.

"I think it is my duty," said Mrs. Bitare, a woman of few words who plays pocket-size video games to exercise her mind. A registered Republican, Mrs. Bitare will vote for presidential candidate George W. Bush.

"And she said in her native tongue that she is supportive (of) Bush because she likes him very much. Not only because of Bush but because of (his mother) Barbara," said Mrs. Bitare's son-in-law, Nick DeJesus. "She loves Barbara very much."

Family members say that Mrs. Bitare has not missed any presidential elections since she immigrated from the Philippines in 1982 and became a citizen four years later. And she has participated in most of the other local elections. Her family moved "Lola," as Mrs. Bitare is sometimes called, to St. Petersburg because they wanted her to be closer to them and her seven grandchildren, said her daughter, Estela DeJesus.

The retired registered nurse, who later became an administrator at a Manila hospital, reads (without eyeglasses) the newspaper for her information, absorbing and retaining details about candidates. "Her eyesight is as good as a juvenile's," Nick DeJesus said.

Although there are only an estimated 1,300 or so voters nationwide who are older than 85, Mrs. Bitare's spirit is representative of her generation's views on voting.

"That generation is very, very adamant about doing one's civic duty and viewing voting as a patriotic act. They've been through several wars," said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida. "It means something different to them than it does the younger generation."

Mrs. Bitare, a widow who stays up late to watch baseball, also voted in the Philippines, which has a long history of election violence peaking in 1984 when an estimated 2,000 people were killed during election season, according to the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

But experts say that election violence in the Philippines has been declining since 1986. In 1998, there were a reported 39 fatalities.

In her native country, women were given the right to vote in 1938 and Mrs. Bitare did not let go of that privilege after she became a U.S. citizen.

That, too, is typical, MacManus said. "First generation voters are extremely dedicated voters," she said.

For others who may not be headed to the polls, "I want them to know it is their duty," Mrs. Bitare said.

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