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Former educator, orator dies at 105


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 11, 2001

Wertie Cook Blanchard Hughes died Friday (Dec. 7, 2001) at Countryside Health Care Center, Palm Harbor. She was 105.

Wertie Cook Blanchard Hughes died Friday (Dec. 7, 2001) at Countryside Health Care Center, Palm Harbor. She was 105.

Even past the century mark, the former educator could do math in her head faster than a calculator. She remembered details such as names, events and dates; and was an avid reader, particularly of romance novels.

She was born Wertie Ion Cook on Sept. 7, 1896, in Lapine, Ala. Her father -- Rufus Jefferson Cook, a storekeeper, farmer and sawmill owner -- died when she was 5 years old, leaving her 30-year-old mother, Frances Priscilla Lewis Cook, to raise four girls and two boys on their farm.

Mrs. Hughes attended Julia Tutweiler College and graduated in 1917 from Livingston State Normal School for Teachers, now Livingston University, Livingston, Ala. In 1923, she married childhood friend Le Roy Blanchard, an engineer with the First West Point-Atlanta Railroad. The couple lived in Selma, Ala., and had one daughter, Martha Ann Bates. Blanchard died in 1940.

She was married for 28 years to her second husband, John Hughes, a retired Air Force master sergeant. They lived in Montgomery, Ala. Throughout the 45 years she lived there, Mrs. Hughes taught school until her husband became ill with cancer in 1970.

After her husband died in 1971, she moved to Florida and first lived in Vero Beach to be near her daughter. Several years later, they both moved to Clearwater.

Among the highlights of her long life, Mrs. Hughes often talked of seeing Halley's Comet in 1910 and how she watched as the Wright Brothers flew their aircraft at the Alabama State Fair in 1912. She also was proud of having attended the inaugural ball for the late Gov. George Wallace, and she once heard John Philip Sousa conduct his military band in the Grand Theater in Montgomery.

She was well known as an orator and gave numerous performances in the Montgomery area. She was a founding member of the Elizabeth Armstrong Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star in Montgomery, an honorary member of the Clearwater Chapter of the Society of Military Widows.

Survivors include a daughter, Martha Ann Blanchard Bates, Clearwater; two grandchildren, Sherryl Bates Wozney, Clearwater, and James Arthur Bates, Almond, N.C.; three great-grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews.

National Cremation Society, Largo, is in charge of arrangements.

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