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What DNC's Oldest Delegate Is Looking Forward to in Philly

Stan Myers / CantonRep.com
Ruby Gilliam at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

All throughout the 1920s, a little girl named Ruby Gilliam handed out campaign flyers for her father and brothers, who were "always running for something."

The youngest of eight children raised in the mountains of rural Kentucky said she started the campaign work when she was 3. Ninety years later, Gilliam is still in politics.

"None of them ever won," she said of her father and brothers. "At least we tried."

All these years later, Gilliam is on the winning side. The 93-year-old Ohioan will be the oldest Hillary Clinton delegate at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia -- if not the oldest delegate overall.

Gilliam won't be the only nonagenarian at the DNC. A 90-year-old woman, Felicia Kahn, of New Orleans, is also making the trip as a Clinton delegate.

"I finally made it," Gilliam said in a phone interview Tuesday from her home in Carroll County, chuckling at the idea of being the oldest delegate. "I've been trying to reach that mark."

Gilliam is taking a six-hour bus ride with other members of the Ohio delegation, and though she is legally blind, she said she's in good health.

"I'm very active and haven't slowed down," said Gilliam, who will turn 94 in November. "I'm one of those women, if the music starts, I dance. I'll tell you this: I'm a young 93."

The DNC in Philadelphia will be her eighth convention in a row. Her first was the 1988 convention in Atlanta when Michael Dukakis was nominated. Dukakis went on to lose to former President George H.W. Bush in the general election.

This time around, Gilliam has a more optimistic feeling about the candidate she will cast her vote for when ballots are cast at the Wells Fargo Center July 26 -- Hillary Clinton.

"I'm looking for Hillary to be nominated and then looking forward to attending her inauguration," she said.

Like Gilliam, Felicia Kahn, the 90-year-old from Louisiana, has a long history of attending Democratic National Conventions.

Kahn, who tweets often about politics, posted a picture to social media earlier this month showing her being honored by New Orleans City Council on her 90th birthday.

She has been involved in politics and community activism for eight decades, getting her start with the League of Women Voters, after graduating from Newcomb College in 1948. She spent 20 years with the influential organization.

“By the time I got to the 1970s, it was a really interesting time because it was the first time I got involved in the women’s movement. I moved to the Democratic Party because on the League of Women’s Rights boards, I couldn’t get involved with candidates,” she said.

Her first convention was 1976 when Jimmy Carter was nominated and eventually went on to win. Philadelphia will mark her 10th, though she didn’t attend a few as a delegate.

Both women said they’ve waited a long time for the chance to cast a vote for a female presidential candidate.

“I was a Hillary delegate eight years ago, so I feel very strong for Hillary and I feel absolute we have a woman with experience,” Kahn said.

After Gilliam gets off the bus and Kahn arrives via a flight to Washington D.C. and a car ride from there with her son, both will begin the task of nominating a candidate. Kahn said DNC officials have pressed the importance of arriving on time each day to the Wells Fargo Center: 3 p.m. Monday and 4 p.m. Tuesday. The first ballots will be cast Tuesday, she said.

Then, of course, there are the daily delegation breakfasts and the evening soirees.

“There will be plenty of cocktails,” Gilliam said. “Not that any of us would drink. Well, not me, anyway. Liquor and I don’t agree.”