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Raleigh Hills centenarian earns a badge of honor

Washington County sheriff deputizes Barbara White for her contribution in the fight against elder abuse
by: Jaime Valdez Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett kisses Barbara White after commissioning her as an honorary deputy during her 100th birthday party on Friday.

It's been a while - perhaps decades - since Barbara White felt self-conscious about revealing her age.

Now that she's reached the century mark, the Beaverton resident figures, she may as well let the world know.

'I know a lot of women who don't like to tell their age,' she said Friday. 'But when you get to a certain age, you're proud of it.'

White celebrated her 100th birthday at Courtyard Village assisted living center in Raleigh Hills, the place she's called home since a pivotal event in 1999 changed her life.

Surrounded by a crowd comprising friends and fellow Courtyard Village residents, daughters and granddaughters, her boyfriend, Floyd, and former Gov. Ted Kulongoski, among others, White marked her centenarian status in style with food, champagne and at least two birthday cakes.

'The Courtyard people said they would throw a grand party, and they did,' White said. 'I don't feel 100. I feel more like 70 or 80.'

Guests also included Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett and several deputies. They were there to commission White as an honorary sheriff for her role in shining a light on elder abuse. In 1999, White was assaulted, kidnapped and robbed by the relative of a friend.

The sheriff's office made a video recording of White, who was 87 at the time, recounting her ordeal. The video was made into an educational documentary used in elder abuse training nationwide for professionals in the adult-protective and law-enforcement fields.

In 2002, the U.S. Senate invited White to help introduce the Elder Abuse Act. Her documentary was a key part of the presentation.

'Her legacy lives on with the video,' Garrett said. 'The way she told her story, we are able to use in hopes of minimizing the likelihood of others becoming victims. Even after they become victims, so many of them can't live their lives without fear. It has lasting impacts.'

White, whose first husband, Julian, died in 1975, was living alone when a young man - the husband of her then-boyfriend's daughter - showed up at her door.

'My first thought was that he was a good, young person,' she calmly recalled. 'But when he attacked me and said, 'I'm going to kill you,' I changed my thoughts.'

The man bound White with duct tape and assaulted her, threatening to kill her if she didn't give him all her money.

'When I was lying on my back where he pushed me - his face was right above mine - I thought he was,' she recalled. 'I thought, 'This was it.' I thought that was the end.'

The man drove White to a bank drive-through, where she emptied her account and gave him the money.

'The people at the bank thought it was strange, but she was there and asked for the money,' said Sgt. David Thompson of the sheriff's office.

The man then drove White to a house in North Portland, where he released her and apparently went to buy drugs - likely crack cocaine - with her stolen money. White immediately went to the nearest police station and reported the crime.

'I still had sticky stuff all over the place,' White said, referring to the duct tape residue. 'My arms were bruised.'

The suspect was eventually arrested, but the crime haunted White. Fearing for her safety, her three daughters moved her to Courtyard Village, an upscale assisted living facility off Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.

'My three girls told me it was time to live with other people,' she said.

White's transition was not easy.

The year after the attack, White became depressed and nearly died. But eventually, she pulled through. After some initial hesitation, she agreed to become an advocate for educating the public and law enforcement about elder abuse.

'During her interview, she said she was ashamed and didn't want to tell her family,' Garrett recalled. 'She tended to blame herself. But she got past that. It shows how strong she is that she can help others to not become victims.'

Largely inspired by White's story, the Washington County Board of Commissioners, in conjunction with Gov. John Kitzhaber, in 2011 proclaimed Oct. 16 the annual 'Elder Abuse and Vulnerable Adult Awareness Day.'

White's daughter, Cathy Kitto, said her mother decided on her own to make something positive from her harrowing experience.

'Nobody pushed her,' said Kitto, who lives in Sammamish, Wash. 'She took that up on her own.'

Speaking before the birthday party crowd, Kitto recalled White's special touches of motherly love.

'We'd always come home from school and find a warm tray of chocolate-chip cookies waiting for us,' she said. 'She was a good mom.'

White, her daughter recalled, had a feeling she might make it to the century mark.

'For the last 10 years or so, she was convinced she would make it to 100,' Kitto said. 'She was determined. She takes care of herself. If anyone can do it, she can.'