Local woman survives two pandemics | February 12, 2021 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 12, 2021

Local woman survives two pandemics

Palo Altan marks 106th birthday with drive-by celebration

by Chris Kenrick

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.

Contributing Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at [email protected]


Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2021 at 9:39 am

Nayeli is a registered user.

Happy Birthday!!!

Posted by The Voice of Palo Alto
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 12, 2021 at 12:16 pm

The Voice of Palo Alto is a registered user.

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.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2021 at 12:43 pm

Resident is a registered user.

106!! Happy birthday, Ms. Martin.

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

-- a Greenmeadow neighbor.

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