GOLDSBORO, N.C. -- If you like George Burns, you may love Dr. Henry Merritt Stenhouse, age 100, who wants to be the next congressman from the Third District of North Carolina.
The centenarian takes his first tough step toward that goal Tuesday in a Republican primary battle against two other candidates whose combined ages do not total his 100 years.
Unlike Burns, Stenhouse doesn't smoke cigars, nor is he a standup comedian. But he does have his Gracie -- Mary Cleaves Stenhouse, his 'magnificent' wife of 64 years, who died in 1983.
He met her in 1918, when he was a young Navy medical officer and she a beautiful Goldsboro girl who had been chosen to christen the USS Clemson at the shipyards in Newport News, Va.
He still has a picture of her taken on that day, showing her clutching an armful of flowers as she prepares to crash a bottle of champagne across the bow. He has also written a book about her titled 'My Mary Cleaves, A Navy Wife.'
Sitting in a blue overstuffed chair in the study of his historic nine-room home in what has become a commercial section of Goldsboro, Stenhouse wanders happily between the past and present.
'See that brick house next door? That was the great house of my wife's family plantation,' he says. 'The plantation stretched from here to Smithfield (a distance of about 24 miles). The federal troops took it over (during the Civil War) when they came to town.'
But even while he reminisces, he quickly returns to the business at hand.
'I think I have a mission to fulfill in this election,' he says. 'Otherwise why would God have kept me here this long?'
'I want to help the children, and I want to help you. I pray every day for you and for all men. I pray to the Blessed Virgin and ask her to pray for the children of this country.'
Stenhouse believes the basic building block of the nation -- the family unit -- has crumbled.
'We have a million young women a year giving birth out of wedlock, and we're paying them to do it, we're paying people to breed,' he says. 'No damn morals! How did we get in such shape?'
'Welfare,' he contends, 'is a task for the churches. The federal government should get out of it. We can't do it overnight, but we should phase it out,' he says.
His two opponents Tuesday are William Kenneth Brosman, 39, a service technician with Rand Oil Co., and Don Davis, 60, a retired Army officer.
Neither has made an issue of Stenhouse's age, but privately some of their supporters fear many voters may find it amusing to indulge a 100-year-old man in his political dreams.
The winner of the Republican nomination will challenge incumbent Rep. H. Martin Lancaster, a Goldsboro Democrat, this fall. Stenhouse says Lancaster 'hasn't a chance.'
'He greased the skids for his own defeat when he and the other congressmen voted themselves pay raises,' Stenhouse says. 'If I get the pay raise, I'll give it back to the federal government to help reduce our national debt.'
Although slightly stooped, Stenhouse is active of mind and body and doesn't see his age as a limiting factor.
His clear, blue eyes seem to twinkle beneath his shaggy white brows when he laughs about how 'I used to be 5-foot-6 -- but I know I've shrunk.'
He has a 57-acre farm that heoversees outside Goldsboro, and he continued his civilain practice as an ophthalmologist up until the first of the year, when his campaign started taking up more of his time.
Age has its rewards, he concedes.
'If I were young, no one would listen to me,' he chuckles.
In fact, his political campaign has brought him international media attention, and he is convinced he will win.
'If publicity can do it, I ought to go over the top,' he declares.
But if he does get to Washington, he may have difficulty getting around because local authorities have picked up his driver's license.
'They have it in the computer I'm blind,' he says with disgust.
Asked whether that could be correct, he snapped, 'Hell, no. I'm not blind. I wear glasses when I read, but everyone does when they get to be 90.'