Willie Mae Hardy has 111 reasons to smile this week. The woman who has seen over a century of life turned 111 this week and is showing no signs of slowing down.
Ms. Hardy was born on a plantation in 1908 in Talbot County, Junction City, Georgia. Her grandmother had been enslaved. After the Emancipation Proclamation the family remained on the plantation as tenant farmers. Growing up, she spent doing chores such as picking cotton, plowing the fields, caring for hogs and chickens, along with tending the garden. Despite her limited education she taught herself to read and write and has been an advocate for her children and all her grandchildren to get an education.
One of the most horrible memories she has while growing up occurred during the Jim Crow era. The Ku Klux Klan came to their family’s home and took away her cousin, Dan. She never saw him again after that day.
In 1939, Willie Mae moved to Atlanta with her husband in search of a better life for her only child, Cassie Nell. She also worked as a housekeeper for various families over the years. Cooking was a passion and collard greens were her specialty. In 1966, Willie Mae’s daughter lost her husband unexpectedly, and Willie Mae moved to Decatur to help care for her seven grandchildren. She has continued to live in the same house with her daughter ever since.
Willie Mae’s husband worked for the city’s transit system before MARTA even existed.
“She has a lot of stories and historical things that she’s shared with us,” her granddaughter, Veronica Edwards, said. “Coming through civil rights – she’s seen it all.”
Hardy is also the oldest member of the Butler Street Baptist Church where she has attended for the last 73 years.
Though she’s unable to attend church as she once did, she is steadfast and faithful in giving her tithe, offering, and taking of the Holy Communion, her family said.
Now in 2019, Veronica also lives in the house and cares for Willie Mae and Cassie, who is 94-years-old. When asked what her secret to long life she simply said, “Trust in the Master” and “loving people.” That allows her to have a good attitude and full life says her granddaughter.
And she is right. Many centenarians, or people who live to 100, share that they have very little to no stress in their lives. Willie Mae could be on to something.
Despite taking care of her two favorite elderly people, Veronica has her own story she’s living too.
“In 2014, I moved back into my childhood home to care for my mother …