With census workers beginning to creep into the county to gather information for the 2010 census, many wonder what demographics numbers will reveal about the county at present. However, few have as much insight into the history of our county as centenarians born and bred here do.
Mary Frances Hays Wofford was born April 19, 1909, in Mansfield. Being the daughter of a miller in the early part of the last century was a tough life — especially as the oldest of eight children.
Wofford said there was really no time for recreation that children today enjoy.
"Fun, where was the fun?" Wofford said. "I did everything there was to do — watched the children, milked the cows, fed the chickens, gathered eggs."
As a girl, Wofford was stricken with polio, but it did not render her unable to walk as it did for many of the children who contracted the disease during the early part of the 20th Century. The only effect it had on her was that she had to buy specially made shoes, because one of her feet ended up being two-and-a-half sizes smaller than the other.
After graduating from high school, she went to work at her uncle’s store, Grady Hays Grocery, which was on the Covington square. She kept the store’s books and met her husband, John Gordon Wofford, who was also a store employee.
For a time after they were married in 1932, they ran their own grocery in Social Circle before becoming the caretakers of a boarding house. Wofford remembers the white, two-story house had a gorgeous wrap-around porch.
In October of 1940, when their daughter Martha, now Martha Williams, was 3, John was tragically killed in a car accident after riding home with friends from a basketball game in Dacula.Wofford said she remembered the police officers coming to the door around midnight and telling her there had been an accident. When she told them the name and number of the family’s doctor, the officers told her there was
no need, John was gone. He was 37 years old.
As a single mother, Wofford could not keep up the responsibility of being the boarding house’s caretaker and moved to Atlanta where she took business courses and took a temporary position at the International Harvester Corporation on Whitehall Street.
"That temporary job lasted for 34 years," said Williams, her daughter.
She held various positions at the company and retired as the switchboard operator. For a couple of decades she was the voice of the company and spoke with people from all across the United States.
"The switchboard was in the lobby and with no one around me, it became a part of me and the outside world," said Wofford in a newspaper interview in 1976. "I have always loved people, and if I could brighten someone’s day by a friendly ‘hello,’ I would try to do so because my life has certainly been touched by people I have come in contact with."
Upon her retirement Southern Bell and International Harvester representatives retired her switchboard and delivered it to her home.
"It’s a novelty for the grandchildren to play with all the keys and bells," Williams said of the machine that now resides in her home’s brick room.
While Wofford lived in Atlanta, Williams lived with her grandmother in Mansfield because her mother knew she was happier there.
Every weekend she would ride the bus to The Hub, the largest rural bus station in the Southeast, to visit her daughter. Williams said she enjoyed weekends at The Hub because she was able to feast on barbecue and Coca-Cola. On Sunday’s she would ride the bus back to Atlanta with her mother and then back to Mansfield by herself – something both Wofford and Williams said they would not allow today.
"She wasn’t scared for me to do it because it was a different time," Williams said.
The two also remembered enjoying the S&W Cafeteria in Atlanta.
"S&W stood for ‘stand and wait,"’ Wofford joked of the popular eatery.
Retired at 68, Wofford soon became bored and sought employment at Caldwell & Cowan funeral home in Covington. Sam Cowan hired her as a greeter. Some days she would work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. She retired from the funeral home at the age of 97.
Many would think the job of a funeral home greeter to be a depressing one, but Wofford had dealt with and conquered her own personal tragedies and, therefore, was well equipped to help others through their dark times.
"I am truly blessed because I get to be around people," Wofford told The News in 2005, "and I’ve lived a good life."
Wofford now resides at Merryvale Assisted Living in Oxford. For her 100th birthday on April 19 the staff at Merryvale threw her a party where they released 100 balloons - one for every year of her life.