David Lauderdale

Lauderdale: Six life lessons from a 107-year-old

Mary Brown poses for a photo on June 7, 2012, inside her Beaufort home, a few days after her 104th birthday, May 27, 2012. Brown died March 24, 2016, just short of her 108th birthday. She was buried in Citizens Cemetery in Beaufort.
Mary Brown poses for a photo on June 7, 2012, inside her Beaufort home, a few days after her 104th birthday, May 27, 2012. Brown died March 24, 2016, just short of her 108th birthday. She was buried in Citizens Cemetery in Beaufort. The Beaufort Gazette

Mary Hamilton Brown was almost 108 when she was laid to rest Saturday in Beaufort’s Citizens’ Cemetery.

She was the seventh of 13 children born to a farmer who also was a preacher in the Jenkins section of Beaufort County, near Gardens Corner.

That was on May 27, 1908.

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She didn’t take medicine and she never spent a day in the hospital. Her husband, Joseph Brown Jr., who worked for the city of Beaufort, died 32 years ago.

I was a working horse.

Mary Hamilton Brown

The woman known as “Ms. Mary” was able to live alone in her home on Church Street until she was past 105. Then she called her daughter, now 84, to come get her. Jennie Robinson said her mother died peacefully at her home in Jacksonville, Fla., still alert and following politics, but hard of hearing.

From a conversation with Robinson this week, and an interview with Ms. Mary when she reached 104 by Beaufort Gazette writer Cathy Carter Harley, we can savor some secrets of a remarkable life.

Work hard.

“I was a working horse,” Ms. Mary said.

For many years, she pressed uniforms in the laundry at U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. She worked at the City Dry Cleaners in Beaufort. She raised three girls; a son died young. She was a Willing Worker at the Central Baptist Church.

“She said, ‘I’m double-jointed so I have double strength,’ ” Robinson said. “She was a very strong woman. She never got tired.”

Ms. Mary said: “I have never laid in bed — not one day in my life.”

Be thankful.

“I have a blessed family,” Ms. Mary said often.

My life was always good.

Mary Hamilton Brown

She appreciated things we take for granted, like electricity and washing machines.

“I used to build a fire under a big pot of water to wash clothes.”

She appreciated bags of rice on a grocery store shelf.

“I used to beat rice in a mortar for us to eat.”

Growing up, her family had little money. But her sister was a seamstress and they lived off the land and creeks. They planted vegetables, and had fruit trees, nut trees, hogs, cows and chickens laying eggs by the dozen. Washtubs full of shrimp, crab and fish came from the creek.

“She always felt she was blessed,” Robinson said.

Be upbeat.

“My life was always good,” Ms. Mary said.

Oh, really? History books say her life spanned two world wars, and a Great Depression. She was by law and local social custom treated as a second-class citizen because she was black. She was 56 when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. She was eligible for Social Security before public schools in Beaufort were integrated.

“She never felt sorry for herself,” Robinson said. “She was never depressed. She never stayed upset or angry at things. That helped her a lot. She was always in a good mood.”

Have faith.

This was the cornerstone of her life.

“She would ask, ‘Why is God so good to me?’ Robinson said. “God told her it was because of her obedience. It was because she carried out the Great Commission. She told everyone about Jesus, wherever she went. She talked to Him, and He talked to her. It was very personal.”

Two of her brothers were preachers; one of them a healer. Today, a granddaughter and her husband are missionaries in Africa.

Have friends.

Ms. Mary outlived her friends, but their children took their place. Among those to help her were volunteers from the Beaufort Police Department who checked on her every day.

Share life’s lessons.

“Be good and kind, and don’t lie and don’t steal, and be honest and you will live long,” Ms. Mary said at 104.

“And if you know better than to do something, don’t do it.”

David Lauderdale: 843-706-8115, @ThatsLauderdale

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