William Frankland was born as a twin in 1912. He began medical school in the 1930s; held a military post in Singapore during WWII that resulted in being held as a POW for more than three years; returned to England after the war, and studied under Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered penicillin; became an allergist and developed a pollen count system to help people understand what triggered their allergic reactions.
All of that happened by the 1950s, and in honor, the Allergy Clinic at St. Mary’s Hospital in London was named after him. At that point, he had more than a half-century of his career to go.
“So often, people say, ‘How is that you’ve lived so long?'” he said. “And I say, ‘That’s just luck, nothing else.'”
At 106, Frankland still occasionally consults with patients and contributes articles to journal publications. He loves reading medical journals and keeping up with the field he helped pioneer.
In a biography about him, Paul Watkins wrote, “This has been quite a unique experience, and one that I think very few people will have the privilege to do, even more so, with Dr. Frankland, of this remarkable long life, in which he’s seen so many changes, so many challenges, and has been through so many really quite remarkable experiences, which most of us can’t even comprehend.”
Beyond longevity, what sets Frankland apart is the sharpness of his mind. He’s writing a paper now about how penicillin was discovered, based on his time with Fleming.
He acknowledges the sadness, as well as the highlights, he has experienced over the years, choosing to swallow the negative memories and fear he experienced and focus on happiness. Memories from his life remain vivid. Frankland even says he remembers his third birthday, when he indulged in too much cake and ended up sick.
“I’m so interested in not only the present and the future but particularly, I suppose, in the past,” Frankland said. “And it’s nice looking back on some of the enjoyable trips that I did.
“When you get old, [there are] some of the things you can’t do,” Frankland said from his armchair. “I’m too old to go on runs and keep fit in that sort of way. But I certainly keep my brain going all the time. And I read a lot of scientific journals and things which come to me monthly, and some — even the British Medical Journal — once a week.
“I think what helps me is that if you lead a sensible life,” he said, “and don’t smoke and don’t overeat, and do a bit of exercise. Be energetic in whatever it is socially and psychologically and emotionally [that] you’re doing. Take these things all in your stride.”