A super grandma is 105 (Okay, I admit a little bias)

Published January 9, 2007

My passion for writing is genetic.

When my grandmother was a little girl, she loved to write. Even when she was 6, she would constantly write letters and words even though all she had was a slate and a slate pencil. Her sisters teased her because she constantly searched for pen and paper, which could be difficult to locate in 1908 rural Tennessee.

She loved writing so much that when they moved into a new home, her mother let her use chalk on the hardwood floors.

Eventually, she moved to Atlanta and landed her first position at the Atlanta Life Insurance Co. in the 1920s. Naturally, her job was to write names on new insurance policies. She recalled that for us on Sunday.

Yes, my grandmother, who was born in 1902, vividly recalled this story for me on Sunday. Go ahead, do the math.

Today is actually Ann Louise Nixon Cooper's 105th birthday, but we celebrated at her Atlanta home on Sunday. As you might imagine, when an active member of the community celebrates such a milestone, she draws quite a crowd of well-wishers.

One of the first to arrive was former Atlanta Mayor and former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, fresh off a trip to South Africa with Oprah. Some people still call him mayor or ambassador. Grandmama, who belongs to the same church, just calls him Andy.

People continued to stream in from 1:30 to 7:30. Police blocked one of the two lanes in front of her home for parking. The guests included a pair of Atlanta city councilmen and current Mayor Shirley Franklin, who arrived with one of the city's highest honors: the Phoenix Award.

When Franklin first campaigned in 2001, she met my grandmother and took note of her rhinestone broach.

"I want that," exclaimed Franklin, whose campaign slogan was, "Elect me and I'll make you proud."

If you make me proud, Grandmama said, I'll give it to you. Franklin delivered, so Grandmama personally delivered the broach to City Hall. She still gets around with a little help and is only beginning to slow down.

"I do one thing a day," she said with a laugh.

We celebrated her 100th birthday at a big hotel ballroom, but this year she wanted guests at her home to thank friends like Sally Warner and James Davis, who have been so helpful over the years.

With everyone looking on, Atlanta singer Darrel McGhee serenaded her with his rendition of Frank Sinatra's Young at Heart: "And if you should survive to 105, look at all you'll derive, out of being alive."

McGhee said it was the first time he had crooned those lyrics for someone who is actually 105.

Longevity and generosity are just two of the traits that made my grandmother one of Atlanta's grand dames. She has received no shortage of honors for her community work with such entities as the Utopian Literary Club, Gates City Nursery Association and the Friends of the Library Board. She also was co-founder of Atlanta's first African-American Cub Scout Troop.

Last year, she flew to Washington to receive the Dorothy I. Height Leadership Award from the Committee for the International Salute to the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The ornate globe sits in her living room.

As I prepared to leave, she thanked me for making the drive from Seffner what's 475 miles for someone is 105? and said she was so proud of her grandchildren, who have all carved out successful lives. Of course, our successes are attributed to her example, her love and the values she instilled in her four children.

So please, forgive me for this personal account in what is supposed to be a column for the people. I made an exception today because what else can you give someone who is 105?

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at hooper@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3406.