Geneva “Mother” Naylor is a treasure to most anyone who meets her.
Her stride isn’t quite as strong and springy as it was in the roaring 1920s, but it’s still a sure, steady step.
Her friends and neighbors still marvel at how Naylor “eats and eats and eats.”
And then the voice. Rich and resonant. Brimming with the confidence that comes with nearly a century of experience. Rolling like heavy velvet out of a tiny frame that is 99-years young.
“I’ve come a long ways,” Naylor said, stretching out the vowel in long for emphasis. “I been here for years. I was one of the first moved in here, and I thank my God that I’m still on top, and going on.”
Naylor’s comments were addressed to more than 25 neighbors and civic leaders who came to Friendship Manor housing complex Wednesday for a lunch in her honor.
Naylor was born in September 1910. Much ado was made about Naylor’s fast-approaching 100th birthday. Considering her robust health – Naylor walked from her housing unit to the complex’s multi-purpose room and, between public speaking, found time to eat a hearty lasagna lunch – no one was shy about discussing the prospects of the centennial celebration of her life.
“Got to make 100, got to make 100,” said Jackie Thompson, who works with senior citizens at the housing complex and organized Naylor’s celebration.
Earlier, Thompson noted that Naylor maintains fierce independence despite her age, in part due to her phenomenal health. Naylor’s skin retains the smooth, even tone of a woman decades younger, and meticulous care has rewarded her with a mouth full of her own teeth.
“Mother Naylor doesn’t miss a tenant meeting, and she comes in by herself,” Thompson said. “She sits right there and she does something that I can’t do: She crosses her legs and puts her hands on her little knees.”
In between bites of a colorful dessert, Naylor briskly recounted the high points of her biography. She was born in 1910 in Lauderdale County, a tiny, rural stretch in central Mississippi perhaps most famous for being the place where three civil rights workers were kidnapped and killed in 1964.
But Naylor was already in her mid-50s and had moved out West by then. She came to Richmond in 1960 to be closer to her son, who had a military career.
In the late 1960s, Naylor moved into the newly-constructed Friendship Manor public housing complex. She never left.
“I’ve always loved it here,” she said.
City leaders in attendance included Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who spoke about what she called the continued “challenges” the city faces. She said Naylor was an inspiration for all of Richmond.
“I’m sure Mother Naylor, in her years, has seen a lot of change,” McLaughlin said. “And I’m sure that change has come from the grassroots. It’s when people come together and say ‘this has got to change,’ that things change.”
Local activist and City Council candidate Corky Booze said Naylor was a great leader in the community.
“I could sit down on a bench with you … and learn about ‘colored only’ drinking (fountains),” Booze said. “And you still keep that smile on your face. You’re the kind of person that when I say, ‘you must lead by example,’ you are the example we must follow.”
Naylor sat stoic as other city officials and fellow residents lavished encomium on her.
When she did speak, her words were generally about her beloved housing complex, and the need for harmony among people.
“Can’t we all get along with one another?” Naylor said. “We need that more than anything.”