100-year-old McDonough woman demonstrates determination

By James Saxton
Times Correspondent

A McDonough resident’s 100th birthday party in October is mere foreshadowing of many more to come, said her caretaker and best friend.

McDonough resident Eddie Mae Addy, left, who turned 100 years old in October, rests while encouraged by caregiver, Gail Nix Blakely, 73, a former schoolteacher who now serves with the home health agency Seniors Helping Seniors. Photo by Don Sweetenham

“We’re going to do a birthday party for her every year,” Millie Sweetenham said. “She said she’s going to live to be 114. And… well, Eddie Mae usually does what she says she’s going to do.”

Dozens attended the Oct. 23 birthday party at Eddie Mae Herren Addy’s Selfridge Road home in McDonough, including church friends, family and neighbors. Almost all of her caregivers, who work for a unique company called Seniors Helping Seniors, were on hand as well.

Taking turns singing The Birthday Song to Addy were preaching pastor Jerry Scarbrough, former music minister Howard Taylor, and Herman Miller, proprietor of the Miller’s Mill store.

An unexpected tribute was paid as well. Two ladies of Asian descent saw the 100th birthday sign on the front fence of Addy’s home and pulled into the driveway on the afternoon of the party. “They wanted to meet this 100-year-old lady, to show her respect,” Sweetenham said. “They left as a gift a beautiful Afghan shawl. What a loving gesture. It’s priceless to me, and I know it is to Eddie Mae.”

Addy is a graceful, spirited Southern lady of steely determination, Sweetenham said. She had a happy childhood despite a tragedy in her toddler years. As her father, Joseph Herren, was driving their car over railroad tracks, it stalled as a speeding train approached. Addy’s mother acted quickly to toss the child from the car seconds before impact. Her father survived but her mother did not.

Addy was raised in a house on Willis Mill Road in East Point by her father, whom Sweetenham said she “absolutely adored,” and by his parents. In 1934 she graduated from Fulton High School and she soon thereafter completed coursework at a secretarial school. She worked for years for office supply manufacturer Mead Pack-aging in Atlanta.

When she was 58, in a small church wedding, Eddie Mae Herren married James Harrison Addy on July 14, 1974. Addy’s reticence to marry any sooner was owing to two factors, Sweetenham said. “She was shy, and she was very, very picky.”

In the early 1980s James Addy hired house movers to move the home his father-in-law had built in East Point to the couple’s own property on Selfridge Road in McDonough. “Eddie Mae said she loved living in the same old house she’d grown up in, only now in a new location out in the country,” Sweetenham said. “It is a great old house.”

James Addy died just ten years after their marriage, in 1984. They had no children and Eddie Mae Addy never remarried. Around that time, she retired from her longtime job at Mead Packaging, and until just five years ago, at age 95, had remained active at her house, doing gardening and mowing the grass and making her way around using a cane. “She was a marvel,” Sweetenham said. “People couldn’t believe she could still handle a riding mower. And she was in church every week. It’s only been recently that she began staying in bed mostly.”

Sweetenham said she met Addy at church in 2003. A lifelong member of First Christian Church on Valley Hill Road in Stockbridge, Addy sat in the pew just in front of Sweetenham, who began helping the then-87-year-old navigate the hallways with her cane to her Sunday school class.

“We struck up a friendship, and it’s lasted all these years,” she said. “I’d sit with Eddie Mae, and talk on the phone with her. She had a head full of all kinds of knowledge. She read every book on all these bookcases,” she said, gesturing toward hundreds of volumes of books on every branch of human experience.

During her working years, Addy was quite thrifty and because of her shrewd savings is now able to afford around-the-clock home health care, which Sweetenham hired from home health company Seniors Helping Seniors of McDonough.

The franchise location of Seniors Helping Seniors was founded in 2008 by Lewis and Peggy Brannen of McDonough, and was one of the company’s first five franchise locations and the only one in the South. Now there are over 200 locations, Lewis Brannen said.

“We’re unique in that we only hire senior citizens to help other senior citizens,” Brannen said. “We want to help seniors be able to stay in their own home, around the things and the pets and the people that they love, because their overall wellness tends to be better if they are around familiar things. Being able to help people stay in their homes for as long as they can, with the dignity and respect that they deserve, well, that’s what we intend.”

All the seniors hired as providers are fully trained by the state-licensed company, Brannen said. “Many are retired and are looking for a way to give back to their community with services that are meaningful. It’s a beautiful thing, really.”

In 2007, Brannen said he worked as a respiratory specialist, providing mobile oxygen services to seniors – many in institutions. “So many of them told me, ‘If I’d only had a little bit of help, I could have managed to stay home.’ So I said to my wife Peggy, ‘There’s got to be a way to help these people stay home.’”

That “way” presented itself when he learned of Seniors Helping Seniors, which at the time was a non-profit organization in Pennsylvania, started by a woman who worked with famed nun and missionary Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India. The non-profit decided that year to incorporate and franchise.

“We loved the idea of seniors helping other seniors to stay in their own homes,” Brannen said. “It’s been an extremely interesting ride. We love doing it. If we can make a difference in the lives of people like Mrs. Addy, well you know, that just makes the day for us.”

For more information on Seniors Helping Seniors, go to www. seniorcaremcdonough.com or phone 770-957-9514.