Willie Mae Hubbard-Wright was born in Freedman Grove on Nov. 4, 1918, seven days before the unofficial end of World War I.
She celebrated her 101st birthday Monday with a handful of family and friends at her home in Midway. And by all accounts, she has been a kind matriarch.
“She’s never uttered a cross word to anybody in her life,” said a grandson, Bob Wright. “She’s always had a smile for everybody.”
“She’s always been a good mother,” said her daughter, Joyce Wright-Kennedy, the family historian. “She’s raised five kids, never worked outside the home and she loved flowers and gardens, and sewing, and her family.”
Hubbard-Wright’s son, Ronald Wright, a businessman, summed it up this way: “She was the perfect mother growing up.”
Hubbard-Wright could just about grow anything and everything, her children said, but didn’t have a favorite flower.
“She loves all of them,” her son said.
A cousin, Adelphinia Jackson-Brown, said Hubbard-Wright always wanted her family “to be connected and united,” and to know their history.
“I feel so blessed to have her as a cousin,” Jackson-Brown said.
Growing up and moving north
Hubbard-Wright’s father, Willie Hubbard, served in World War II. She’s named after him, Wright Kennedy said, for a simple reason.
“They didn’t know if he would be coming home from the war,” she said.
He did, and he and Lillian Jackson-Hubbard and their young family grew up in Freedman Grove, though Hubbard-Wright would be raised by her grandmother, Jenny Hubbard, after her mother died when she was 3.
Hubbard-Wright’s grandfather, the Rev. Luther Hubbard, was born in New York and fought his way south with the Union Army in the Civil War. He then went to college in Pennsylvania and later came back to pastor Presbyterian churches in Liberty County and Savannah, and is mentioned in a number of historical accounts of the era.
That history remained important to Hubbard-Wright, who started school at the Freedman Grove School and then went to Dorchester Academy. She still has her grammar school diploma from 1936, kept it tucked way safely in a safety deposit box so that now, more than 80 years later, it’s in remarkably good shape.
“She walked to school at Dorchester seven miles one way and then in the afternoon walked seven miles back home,” Kennedy-Wright said.
“And she was never late to school, not one time,” Ronald Wright said.
After grammar school, Hubbard-Wright became a boarder at Dorchester, where she learned to sew. That gift stayed with her through the years. She made clothes for her children, her grandchildren and friends who admired her talent.
She also got married to Robert Wright. They had four children – Arletha Mae, Ronald, Cartell and Joyce – before moving north to Philadelphia, where a fifth child was born, Madeline. Along the way, Hubbard-Wright survived breast cancer and outlived diabetes.
And over the decades, as they made a life in Philadelphia, Liberty County remained home, with ties to the county that go back to the 1800s.
“We would come down here every year and spend time in the summer,” Wright-Kennedy recalled. “This was always home.”
Ronald Wright sold his car repair business in Philadelphia in 1989 and moved back here. When Hubbard-Wright’s husband died in 2006, she wanted to come back home, and “she and her children returned to Liberty County and made Midway their home place,” and “became acquainted or reacquainted with family members in Freedman Grove and adjoining communities,” according to a birthday program Wright-Kennedy put together.
One of the family’s close friends is Deborah Robinson, a local teacher and icon of the civil rights movement who volunteers at Dorchester. She said Hubbard-Wright “was always laughing, always happy.”
Her children say she’s always been that way.
“One of things that makes her really special to me is she had five kids, and you know some kids don’t like this, and some don’t like that, but she would go out of her way to make sure we all had something to eat we liked,” Wright-Kennedy said. “She would prepare different pots for us.”
And not just her children, but her grandchildren and their cousins, as well, her grandson said.
As Hubbard-Wright enters her 101st year, her daughter praises Best Care of Hinesville, for their caregivers who come out on a daily basis. There was never a thought of putting their mother in a nursing home, Wright-Kennedy said.
“She’s been too good a mother for me to do that,” she said.
The family had cake and gathered for a group photo on Monday, to celebrate Hubbard-Wright’s 101st birthday. And if there was a portrait of Hubbard-Wright that could be painted in single sentence, perhaps it would be this from her grandson.
“No matter what, she’s always been a lady,” Bob Wright said. “A gracious lady.”