Twinkling eyes and a big smile greet anyone meeting Mr. Vann Buren Covington. Covington is a North Carolinian through and through, and a very fit one, for a 94 and 1/2 year old gentleman.
He was named for his grandfather, who was named for former President Martin Van Buren, but later changed spelling to “Vann.”
He admits with a mischievous smile he never reported the change to anybody.
Born in 1918, Covington grew up on Buck Jones Road, attended local schools and worked in his dad’s “credit” grocery store between two big name “cash only” grocery stores during the Depression. His father paid him to work from 3:30 to 7 p.m. daily for $5 a week, promising to pay him when he could.
He was the son of two parents that were involved in their community and from them he learned to work hard and developed a strong sense of compassion for others. At that age of 18, he began courting a beautiful lady named Cornele, who was a student at UNC-Greensboro and champion tennis player.
Covington graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill and worked as a bookkeeper for Carolina Power and Light. He was able to save enough money to purchase new clothes, a new Oldsmobile and platinum bands for the wedding ceremony.
The couple built their home in Raleigh after living in Richmond for 43 years, where he worked as a sales manager. Together they raised two sons, both of whom live nearby in Raleigh and Holly Springs. Cornele died at the age of 82 and Covington retired in 1983, living independently until two years ago after a hip replacement. That is when he took residence at Windsor Point Retirement Community and since then has become quite a celebrity.
Covington exercises three times a week using a routine of riding an exercise bike for 10 minutes with resistance, lifting first one and then three pound weights for range of motion, doing thirty push-ups from a standing position to the bar on his walker, then twenty sit ups on the “back machine” and finally one hundred and five movements on the elliptical machine. Photos of him exercising were used in Windsor Point advertising on CNBC, Animal Planet, TV Land, AMC and Lifetime Movie Network.
He notes with great pride that he weighs the same as he did in college, a lean 182 pounds. He eats healthy fruits and vegetables, a good self-made breakfast, a little lunch and a good supper at 5 p.m. with fellow residents.
He said exercising was “an outlet,” “a way to meet people,” and it “makes me feel better.”
Not meaning to brag, Covington proudly reports that he has never had a cold. Being the fourth oldest man living at Windsor Point (the oldest being 97) is motivation to keep fit so he may be the oldest man someday.
Many of the people he knew (eight younger salesmen who worked under him in Richmond and his boss) have all passed away. He attributes part of his longevity to “not getting worked up and blowing my stack,” like he has seen so many others do.
Covington very much enjoys his life at Windsor Point and feels the staff genuinely cares about their residents. He also has pride and peace about his life.
“I couldn’t have had a better life,” said Covington. “I did well for myself.”
Covington has all he needs with his two sons and their families nearby. They call him every day to see how he is doing, if he needs anything and to catch up.
He confided that he has been entering Clearinghouse Sweepstakes this year in the hopes of winning the jackpot. Leaning over and speaking conspiratorially, Covington said, “If I won, I would probably give most of it away to my friends who are sick and one of my cousins who had a stroke and needs money.”
Covington wanted it known that in his room is a picture of him holding the "singing fish" wall decoration, with the caption: "Women want me and fish fear me." If you ever go visit him you had best be prepared for an intelligence test. He will ask you, "How do you stop a charging bull?" Be ready.