Laura Wright’s devotion to solving crossword puzzles was put on hold Thursday as family and friends celebrated her 111th birthday.
The retired teacher attributes her longevity to “the hands of the Lord.”
No one knows if she is the oldest person living in South Carolina, although amateur genealogists consulted by her relatives say she is in the running for that title.
State officials don’t keep track of that or of how many residents are 100 and older, according to Robert Yanity, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
But family member James Holloway, 40 years her junior, has an apt description of Wright’s long life. He calls it “mind-boggling.”
Former student Charlie Daniel, 87, was among those who dropped by to salute Wright.
He remembers her as “someone who was very concerned” about her students doing well, providing advice about life as well as academics.
Wright spends much of her time at home – around the corner from a former school where she taught – tackling puzzles and crocheting. She no longer goes fishing but still nibbles on her favorite dish of chicken wings.
Her sister Annie Bell Chappelle, 96, said the pair “take it day by day.”
But Wright’s memory of local history is strong, according to niece Willie Pearl Holloway.
Wright tells youngsters from a nonprofit community center operated by the Holloways that she remembers teaching their grandparents and great-grandparents.
She has seen much change since her birth in 1906 in the rural community 50 miles northwest of downtown Columbia.
Twenty men have been president during her lifespan, with Barack Obama her favorite. Family members took her to the polls in 2008 so she could vote and help Obama become the nation’s first African-American president.
Wright wasn’t a civil-rights crusader publicly, opting to overcome racial and social barriers with a gentle, patient manner, family members said.
She became a teacher because her parents promoted education as a step to a brighter future away from the family farm.
Wright never married, but supported 11 siblings as well as assisting hundreds of students she taught for 40 years.
“She has been a mother to a lot of children,” James Holloway said.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483