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Posted: July 14, 2010 12:30 a.m.

The red hat of friendship

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Bright crimson red hats. Deep purple outfits. Neither color match in an ensemble, but with the Red Hat Society, that is the whole point. Created for women over the age of 50, the organization serves to create lasting friendships and camaraderie.

Founded by Sue Ellen Cooper in 1998 when she bought a friend a red fedora and a copy of Jenny Joseph’s poem "Warning" as a 55th birthday gift. Cooper did the same for more of her friends who loved it, and one day they decided they would all gather in full regalia to have tea. Needless to say, the rest was history.

Word of mouth led to the launching of subsequent chapters across the rest of the world. According to various sources, the Red Hat Society has bloomed to over 70,000 registered members and almost 24,000 chapters in the United States and 25 other countries. The Red Hat Society has become the largest women’s social group in the world.

The first and only rule in the Red Hat Society is that there are none; activities are decided in a loose and unstructured manner and all is required is a great sense of humor and fun. Women over 50 dress in the typical red hat and purple outfits and are referred to as "red hatters." Women under 50 may join as well, but they are to wear pink hats and lavender clothes, and are called "pink hatters." Colors are reversed for ladies celebrating their birthday month. The leader of the group is bestowed the title of "Queen," though the responsibilities are far more relaxed than those of the Queen of England.

The Covington/Conyers chapter began like the others and conducts their activities in relatively same fashion. Headed by Queen Diane Dawson, this particular chapter was started by fellow hatters Bonnie and former Queen Jo in 2004.

"When I had to take care of my husband who was diagnosed with cancer, I was asked to come join the group to take some time for myself," explained Dawson. "I didn’t want to at first, but they insisted and so did my husband, so I went and it was fun. We all refer to each other as sisters. It really gives us time for sisterhood."

The chapter holds a meeting every other Wednesday at 6 p.m. They traditionally meet at a local restaurant or a member’s home. When a member hosts a meeting at their home, each member will bring a dish to participate.

"My job as queen, which I became because Jo decided to retire and give someone else the fun, is just to provide leadership in some areas like ‘where are we going to meet,’ or ‘who’s driving,’" laughs Dawson. "There are no real hard rules here. We just casually choose what we want to do. If someone doesn’t want to do it, they don’t have to. This group mainly allows ladies like us to get together, share what’s happening with our lives, kids and whatever else that let us have some fun."

The ladies often engage in a range of budget conscious activities like concerts on the square and even other chapters’ events. The group has taken a few vacation trips since their inception, including trips to Hilton Head and the mountains of North Georgia. They also have upcoming plans to visit Pigeon Forge in the fall to check out the colors.

The group established a sunshine committee, and members contribute about seven dollars in monthly dues. The funds collected are used for special occasion cards and other cost-effective activities.

"There’s no initiation, no large fees to officially join and no tall leaps over a building in a single bound," Dawson said. "We currently have seven active members and would love to beef up our numbers to about twelve or so. It would be tough to have more than that, as it would be difficult for travel purposes and making reservations."

The Covington/Conyers chapter’s next gathering will be at Joe’s Crab Shack in Snellville next Wednesday at 6 p.m. For more information about the organization, visit www.redhatsociety.com. To join the Covington/Conyers chapter, contact Dawson at dld444@yahoo.com.

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