Tuesday, November 28, 2000

Time caught up to centenarian


Some count years; she counted blessings

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Ella Miller was 106 or 107 in this 1988 photo taken at her church in Woodlawn
(Enquirer file photo)
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        FOREST PARK — A graceful witness to three centuries, Ella Miller was old enough to drive before cars were invented. But to ask her about longevity was to risk a short answer: “Just don't die,” she was fond of telling reporters who flocked to her story in recent years.

        Monday, family and friends of the woman who died last week gathered at her funeral to celebrate a life she rode from the thorny times of 1880s rural Tennessee to the Rose Garden at the White House.

        She was two weeks short of either her 119th or 120th birthday, and had spent nearly a century in Cincinnati, where she helped shape Mount Zion Baptist Church in Woodlawn by battling for the increased role of women.

        “Time has now spilled into eternity for this great matriarch,” the Rev. Eddie Martin said to a hushed chorus of amens at Thompson, Hall and Jordan Funeral Home in Forest Park.

        A maid until she was 107, Mrs. Miller had long been a teacher of life lessons, yet she had no formal education.

        The eldest of five children of freed slaves, she was born without a birth certificate or other written documentation, a requirement for eligibility for the Guinness Book of Records as the world's oldest person.

        No matter.

        Her niece, Helen Catchings of Vienna, Va., with whom Mrs. Miller lived for more than a decade, said her aunt had no time for chitchat about time.

        To do so, she believed, was to waste it.

        “She never mentioned her age,” Ms. Catchings said. “Unless some reporter would ask her.”

        Invariably, they did. The Washington Post covered a speaking engagement she gave to Virginia second-graders at age 114. Seven years earlier, the Enquirer wrote of her final days in Cincinnati. When questions inched toward the topic of age, she focused on living life, not avoiding death.

        A longtime Wyoming resident, Mrs. Miller cherished church, recalled her nieces — Ms. Catchings, Stella Dudger of Rogersville, Tenn., and Alberta Gardner of Columbus, Ga. Her loves included ribs and corn on the cob, dressing with style, gardening, volunteer work, meticulous housekeeping and traveling.

        Her husband of 42 years, Isaac, died nearly 70 years ago. They had no children. He also was a member at Mount Zion, where in 1927, she successfully petitioned for more recognition for women. On Nov. 13 of that year, the first Women's Day celebration at a Greater Cincinnati church was held.

        “Her life was an example for mine,” said Gloria Hardy, 70, of Woodlawn, who had known Mrs. Miller since the 1950s.

        The Rev. Mr. Martin said Mrs. Miller's sage advice helped solidify his marriage, and the legacy she left was one of tirelessly caring for others.

        “So thanks to God, Sister Miller's not dead,” he said. “She's just gone on home.”

       



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