None knew that better than the friends who surprised him Thursday morning, a day before his Big day, at The Delly Deck in Havensight, his breakfast haunt for the last 40 or so years.
As Paiewonsky walked in on the arm of his longtime friend Joyce Huskey, he was clearly astonished. And enormously pleased.
"You scared the hell out of me," he said, his blue eyes sparkling. "I guess I'm going to last a little longer, cause this would have killed me."
The camaraderie in the room was contagious. A young woman, a total stranger, approached Paiewonsky. "I don't know you," she said, "but what an accomplishment."
You could say that.
Paiewonsky said he has been celebrating his centennial all week, with 32 family members from the Dominican Republic arriving on a cruise ship Monday. On Friday he will celebrate with his sons, Irving and Albert; his wife, Marcia; granddaughter Anna; great granddaughter Jessica; and other family members.
After breakfast, Paiewonsky goes to work five days at his office in the old Cinema One building where he and Louise Smith, his secretary of 40 years, manage a couple rental properties. "I enjoy that," he says. "I have to keep busy, you know."
Paiewonsky is vigorous mentally and, all things considered, physically. He loves to be with people, to share his little comic asides; he loves talking politics; (his daughter, Sheila is married to former V.I. Congressman Ron de Lugo); his joie de vivre is never ending.
Paiewonsky was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. He is the patriarch of the bountiful Paiewonsky clan and enjoys every minute of it.
The Paiewonskys have a long and rich history in the Dominican Republic, as well as St. Thomas
He had a career in the movie business where he got his start in Santo Domingo, living under the dictatorship of Raphael Trujillo. He managed the distribution of Universal Films - a job which would take him to South America — "I wanted my children to see what it was like living in a democracy," he has said. "They had only lived under the Trujillo."
At the urging of family members, Paiewonsky moved to St. Thomas with his family in 1957 to manage the Center Theater on Main Street, where he raised the standards of movie fare, bringing first-class cinema to the center.
This is simply the tip of the iceberg.
The immediate story is Thursday morning, where the women gathered to honor and pay tribute to the role he plays in their lives. (Paiewonsky lives alone, with help from his friends.) And he says he loves it that way.
"Some memories are forever," he said. "I am surrounded by family. I feel them very deeply. I've had them for a long time; it's a blessing. There's no explanation, either. I'm surprised to be here, and thankful. There is so much hatred in the world," he said. "I just wish I could live to see people coexist with love, and without prejudice."
There have been some recent bumps in the road, however, that Paiewonsky has had to come to grips with.
At age 90, he renewed his drivers license for the 10-year period. "I don't know who is going to expire first," he said at the time. He won, the license expires Friday, though at the family's urging, he's given up driving.
Huskey, who got to know Paiewonsky when she had her candy shop, Mama's, in Havensight Mall, where he came in one morning and asked her to breakfast. "It was Halloween and I had on a clown suit," she said. "I asked if I could wear that." He came back a little later wearing red devil horns, and we went to breakfast. Everyone loved the horns, at his age!"
The breakfasts have continued for the past 23 years, except when Huskey is off-island, and that's where several of Paiewonsky's other companions come in, driving him to Delly Deck.
Neighbor Pam Larsen said, "We never realized how profoundly our lives would be affected by knowing him," a thought she expressed in a poem, reading in part: ".... I didn't realize the gift I'd been given/ Til after the first couple times I had driven."
Claudia LaBorde, who fills in when Huskey is away, created a collage with photos from his life, starting with a sailor-suited child, and centering on photos of his late wife, Hulda. It is inscribed: "To see her was to love her, love but her, and love her forever."
When Paiewonsky speaks of Hulda it's as if she is in the room. "The greenest eyes I've ever seen," he said again Thursday, as his friends, and his last son, Irving, listened silently.
Linda Varian of Gourmet Gallery provided a little levity with a label from Paiewonsky's favorite jam, a "Smuckers moment."
"We made our own label," Varian said. Decorated in the familiar red-and-white check, it reads: "With a Name Like Morris Paiewonsky, St. Thomas, V.I. 100 Years Old."
Huskey presented Paiewonsky with his own name plate, which reads: "Reserved for Mr. Morris.”
She said, "Now, I hope they'll use it. They don't take reservations, you know." It was agreed, however, that "Mr. Morris" has a bit of clout.
Completing the circle of friends and fans were Jackie Jeffers, Paiewonsky's afternoon driver after lunch in the restaurant; Adriana Casimir, Paiewonsky's evening chef and housekeeper; his secretary Smith; and waitress Ronnie, who has served him breakfast and lunch for the past 40 years.
Paiewonsky clearly enjoyed holding court. He was born to it. His fading hearing, he said, was the only problem. "Because I love to talk, and sometimes I say yes, when it's wrong."
He talked all morning, while taking time out for bites of his sugarless 100th birthday cake – "I'd eat it even with sugar, it's so beautiful."
"With all the love around this table this morning," he said, "I don't want it to end. Everything is possible today, excellent companions."
However, he turned to his secretary. "Do we have to go to work today?" "Yes," said Smith. "I need to wrap a package."
With that, Paiewonsky left on Huskey's arm, stopping to hold open the door for his guests.
"My mama always told me to hold the door for a lady" he said.