News

Palo Altan marks 106th birthday with drive-by celebration

Elise Martin, who survived 1918 flu pandemic, turns another year older amid COVID-19 crisis

Palo Alto resident Elise Martin is living through her second pandemic.

As a 3-year-old in Hartsville, South Carolina, she was sickened by but survived the 1918 flu pandemic, which took the lives of her father and her baby sister.

Born in 1915, Martin marked her 106th birthday on Saturday, Feb. 6, by greeting friends, relatives and neighbors in a drive-by celebration in front of the home she shares with her daughter and son-in-law, Loretta and Bill Green.

"Oh, my goodness — it was such a beautifully done affair," she said afterward. "I don't know how many cars were there, but I understand it was over 50, and there were people standing in their yards and just walking along too."

Martin has few clear memories of the 1918 pandemic but does recall watching as her father's body, dressed up in his suit, was carried away on a horse-drawn wagon.

What's local journalism worth to you?

Support Palo Alto Online for as little as $5/month.

Learn more

"I never understood why other children could have a father and I couldn't," she said. "That was puzzling to me because I was quite young when he died. My mother had five children, and how she managed I really don't know, but she was always happy and smiling, and it seemed for some reason we did no wrong."

Martin's mother, Fannie Jones, worked as a seamstress to support the family.

After graduating from cosmetology school, Martin opened her first beauty shop in Columbia, South Carolina, before the age of 20. She owned several successful beauty shops and, in 1969, became the first African American to own a business on the downtown's Main Street when she opened a boutique there.

Martin also taught cosmetology for 27 years at Columbia's Booker T. Washington High School. She received a call last week from a former student who told her he owns a barber shop, owns his own home and also owns the lot next door.

"He said, 'I remember in school when you told me that I should not be shining shoes for a man. If I'm going to shine them, shine them for myself. That really made me think I needed to get out on my own.'

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Sign up

"I thought it was so nice because he remembered what I said to him and when I said it," Martin said.

Martin was active in many Columbia civic organizations, including the zoning board and a citizens advisory committee. She spent decades as a poll worker and, at 93, was working on a campaign when then-candidate Barack Obama stopped by for a photo and a chat. She later met then-Vice-President Joe Biden as well.

Widowed, Martin moved to Palo Alto seven years ago to live with her daughter and son-in-law.

She enjoys watching Jeopardy, football and basketball.

"I love basketball. Steph Curry can just stand anywhere he wants to stand — I'd say he can just turn his back and throw the ball in," she said.

Asked for her advice on living a long and healthy life, she said: "I love people. Sometimes I'm not feeling good and people get around me and I forget I'm not feeling good. If you have people, they're the best things to have around you."

Martin also enjoys the company of her small dog, a Papillon who she named after her first beauty shop — Vanity Fair.

Craving a new voice in Peninsula dining?

Sign up for the Peninsula Foodist newsletter.

Sign up now

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Palo Altan marks 106th birthday with drive-by celebration

Elise Martin, who survived 1918 flu pandemic, turns another year older amid COVID-19 crisis

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Feb 12, 2021, 6:56 am

Palo Alto resident Elise Martin is living through her second pandemic.

As a 3-year-old in Hartsville, South Carolina, she was sickened by but survived the 1918 flu pandemic, which took the lives of her father and her baby sister.

Born in 1915, Martin marked her 106th birthday on Saturday, Feb. 6, by greeting friends, relatives and neighbors in a drive-by celebration in front of the home she shares with her daughter and son-in-law, Loretta and Bill Green.

"Oh, my goodness — it was such a beautifully done affair," she said afterward. "I don't know how many cars were there, but I understand it was over 50, and there were people standing in their yards and just walking along too."

Martin has few clear memories of the 1918 pandemic but does recall watching as her father's body, dressed up in his suit, was carried away on a horse-drawn wagon.

"I never understood why other children could have a father and I couldn't," she said. "That was puzzling to me because I was quite young when he died. My mother had five children, and how she managed I really don't know, but she was always happy and smiling, and it seemed for some reason we did no wrong."

Martin's mother, Fannie Jones, worked as a seamstress to support the family.

After graduating from cosmetology school, Martin opened her first beauty shop in Columbia, South Carolina, before the age of 20. She owned several successful beauty shops and, in 1969, became the first African American to own a business on the downtown's Main Street when she opened a boutique there.

Martin also taught cosmetology for 27 years at Columbia's Booker T. Washington High School. She received a call last week from a former student who told her he owns a barber shop, owns his own home and also owns the lot next door.

"He said, 'I remember in school when you told me that I should not be shining shoes for a man. If I'm going to shine them, shine them for myself. That really made me think I needed to get out on my own.'

"I thought it was so nice because he remembered what I said to him and when I said it," Martin said.

Martin was active in many Columbia civic organizations, including the zoning board and a citizens advisory committee. She spent decades as a poll worker and, at 93, was working on a campaign when then-candidate Barack Obama stopped by for a photo and a chat. She later met then-Vice-President Joe Biden as well.

Widowed, Martin moved to Palo Alto seven years ago to live with her daughter and son-in-law.

She enjoys watching Jeopardy, football and basketball.

"I love basketball. Steph Curry can just stand anywhere he wants to stand — I'd say he can just turn his back and throw the ball in," she said.

Asked for her advice on living a long and healthy life, she said: "I love people. Sometimes I'm not feeling good and people get around me and I forget I'm not feeling good. If you have people, they're the best things to have around you."

Martin also enjoys the company of her small dog, a Papillon who she named after her first beauty shop — Vanity Fair.

Comments

Nayeli
Registered user
Midtown
on Feb 12, 2021 at 9:39 am
Nayeli, Midtown
Registered user
on Feb 12, 2021 at 9:39 am

Happy Birthday!!!


The Voice of Palo Alto
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Feb 12, 2021 at 12:16 pm
The Voice of Palo Alto, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Feb 12, 2021 at 12:16 pm

Finally, a feel good story here that we all can agree on! Notice how it was an outdoor celebration, and not held indoors(like a gym or a classroom) due to Covid protocols. It was so amazing that her family did this for Elise and it was so nice that so many people showed up to honk and celebrate. [Portion removed.] Also, please note the sad note of the story that both her father and baby sister died in the 1918 flu pandemic [portion removed.] Also, what a hilariously cute name for her dog, “Vanity Fair.” I also love the fact that she was the first African American to own a business on Main Street. That’s groundbreaking and I appreciate learning that in this article. Elise seems like an amazing person and she is definitely correct about Steph Curry! Happy 106th Birthday Elise from everyone here in my beloved Crescent Park.


Resident
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2021 at 12:43 pm
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Feb 12, 2021 at 12:43 pm

106!! Happy birthday, Ms. Martin.

I wish you and yours comfort, joy and good health in the coming year.

-- a Greenmeadow neighbor.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.