Navigating life's long journey without learning to drive

By STEPHANIE HAYES, Times Staff Writer
Published August 29, 2007

CLEARWATER - April 25, 1903: Lillie Mae Baker is born on a farm in Colquitt County, Ga. She is the third child. Her parents will have 10 more.

Age 19: Lillie Mae is thrust into responsibility - her mother dies after giving birth to twin boys, and her father dies from a tetanus infection. She must now help care for her siblings.

Age 32: Lillie Mae marries Webster Earl Baker, a sign painter and a regular at the Georgia diner where Lillie Mae is a waitress. He is loose with money. She is more conservative, and keeps the family checkbook in line. They love each other dearly.

Her husband becomes a church pastor. Lillie Mae relishes being a pastor's wife, making appointments, socializing with church members and caring for her two sons.

Sometimes she is strict, says her son Earl Jr. But more often she's gentle and sweet, and the kids get away with murder.

Age 62: Lillie Mae is heartbroken when her husband dies of diabetes. He built their house in Lakeland. It's full of memories, and she doesn't want to leave.

Her family thinks now is a good time for Lillie Mae to finally get a drivers license . The last car she tried driving was a Model T.

She is not familiar with modern brakes. She slams hard at every stop. The family Shih Tzu, Puddles, flies off the back seat to the floor. At home, Puddles leaps from the car, yelping all the way into the house.

She never gets the license.

Age 73: Her upbringing has compelled Lillie Mae to earn her keep, but she finally retires from her job at Florida Southern College working in food services.

Age 77: Lillie Mae leaves her Lakeland home and moves to Clearwater to be near a son. She insists on having her own condo.

Age 100: Lillie Mae's family and friends throw her a birthday party. She gets a letter and a little plaque from the White House commemorating her milestone. She hangs it in her home.

Lillie Mae still lives alone. She makes oatmeal cookies, collard greens, grits, butter beans and corn bread. She gardens and sings.

Age 102: She moves into an assisted living home, scrimping and saving to leave some money for her family.

Lillie Mae reads the Bible every day. She refuses to buy new eyeglasses and attributes her longevity to God's grace.

Age 104: She falls several times and one of them lands her in the hospital.

She doesn't like the oxygen mask, so she hides it under her blanket. Earl Jr., 71, tells the nurse. Lillie Mae waves her finger at her son like he's a naughty boy. "I think it's time for you to go home," she tells him.

She's in pain, but she won't let on. "I'm fine," she says, over and over.

Aug. 26, 2007: Lillie Mae dies in her sleep.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or 727 893-8857.


Lillie Mae Baker

Born: April 25, 1903.

Died: Aug. 26, 2007.

Survivors: Sons, Earl and wife Lois, and Charles and wife Carolyn; three grandchildren; two great-grandchildren.

Services: 11 a.m. today at Moss Feaster Funeral Home, 693 S Belcher Road, Clearwater.