Last week one of my heroes died. Her name was Granny D and she was 100-years-old.
You can read her obituary on BBC or on Huffington Post,Â but the only thing you really need to know is what a great lady she was. In 1999, after her husband of 60+ years died of Alzheimer’s, she hitched up her pants, laced up her shoes and decided to walk across the entire country by herself to bring attention to a cause she cared about: campaign finance reform. Oh, and did I mention she was 90-years-old when she did it?
She had no money and no political connections. She started in California (behind the annual Rose Bowl parade) and headed east. Every day she walked 10 miles. And when she was done she would knock on the door of the nearest house and ask for some food and a place to sleep.
At first she had only her son Jim to watch out for her. (She wanted to do it alone, but he insisted that he follow behind in a beat-up old car as she was not only very old but had a history of emphysema and he was worried about her health.) But after a few months she had a lot of company including friends, mayors of towns she went through and even big named politicians like John McCain (back when he was cool). She went from pounding on doors for a bed to being invited to stay at dozens of homes every night.
Every night she would write in her diary (a woman after my own heart) and those entries later grew into the excellent book “You’re Never Too Old to Raise a Little Hell.” (Later changed to the more timid “Walking Across America in my 90th Year.”)
What is great about Granny D is not that she cared so much about campaign finance reform or that she walked so far. It’s that she got up and did something crazy. She had taken care of her husband for the last 10 years of his life when he had Alzheimer’s and the same time he died, her lifelong best friend died too. She was old, sick, and frankly no one would blame her if she just gave up.
But she didn’t. She turned the last chapter of her life into something crazy, something extraordinary. And that is why she was a hero of mine.
(Another fun tidbit: In 1994 she ran for governor of New Hampshire not because she wanted the job but because the democratic nominee dropped out of the race at the last minute and she didn’t want the republican to run unopposed. Despite her being 94-years-old she won 33 percent of the vote!)
I met Granny D once when she came in to a store I worked at to buy a greeting card. My co-workers knew how much I admired here and whispered to me when she came in. I followed her with my eyes star struck. When she came to the counter to pay my co-worker pointed at me and said, “Granny D, this girl is a big fan of yours.”
“I love your book,” I gushed. (I probably said some other babbling nonsense that I donâ€™t remember now. That happens when I meet someone I admire.)
“Oh, thank you very much,” she said.
She paid, picked up her bag to leave and paused. She then dropped the bag back on the counter and turned to me.
“Why don’t you come out from behind the counter and give me a hug,” she said.
I happily obliged.
So long Granny D. You will be missed.
Writer. Traveler. Tea Drinker.Writer. Traveler. Tea Drinker. Doing all three in China
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Great commentary/remembrance. And the blog just keeps getting richer. Happy spring!