Annie Mae Mutry, 117, daughter of former slaves

November 01, 1995|By Joe Mathews and Fred Rasmussen | Joe Mathews and Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

About 60 people attended a funeral service yesterday at New Carmel Star Baptist Church on West Baltimore Street. There would have been more people, but Annie Mae Mutry outlived many of her friends and two husbands.

Mrs. Mutry, who was born during the administration of President Rutherford B. Hayes, died Thursday of cancer at Liberty Medical Center. She was 117.

Mrs. Mutry's early years are a mystery, even for family members. Her only daughter, Catherine Rogers, 78, said her mother was born May 10, 1878, on a plantation in Lylesville, S.C., the daughter of former slaves. State officials could not confirm the date of birth, because their records go back only 80 years.

Mrs. Rogers said her mother used to tell her stories about her grandparents but knew very little about her mother's life there.

"She told me stories about how hard they had to work and how little food they had. It was a tough existence," Mrs. Rogers said.

Mrs. Rogers said her mother, who didn't attend school and helped her parents, who were farmers, came to Baltimore when she was 6.

"She was an extremely tough lady," said Ted Laster, a family friend. Mr. Laster said that Mrs. Mutry pushed him to attend college and, later, Harvard law school. "She told me that there were certain things I should do for myself and my people."

Mrs. Mutry was brought to Baltimore in 1923 by Roland and Blanche Wilson, who owned a restaurant on Eutaw Street, near Camden Station.

"She cooked soul food -- that's what we call it now -- and the restaurant was very popular with red caps, Pullman porters and other black B&O Railroad workers who worked in the nearby station," said the daughter.

Mrs. Mutry later took a job in the Old Superior Whitehouse Rag Factory on Poppleton Street in Southwest Baltimore where she worked until retiring in the early 1960s.

Still, she continued to cook for the grandchildren, great-grandchildren and friends who stopped by her apartment in the 800 block of W. Lexington St.

"There were sweet potato pies, biscuits, chicken -- anything you can think of," said Walter Samuel, 57, who used to fish and play pool with her grandson, Herman Lee of Baltimore. "Everyone was family, and everyone would be invited in to eat."

She also was an avid Oriole fan -- perhaps their oldest -- who attended a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards when she was 114, according to her daughter.

Even in her later years, Mrs. Mutry was talkative. Herman Lee, a truck driver, said his grandmother spoke frequently about her sadness at the decline of many Baltimore neighborhoods.

"She talked all the time, we talked about school," said Darrell Banks, 10, of Baltimore who is a great-great-great-grandson and a fourth-grader at Gilmor Elementary School. "She said she's about to leave, and not to forget her."

"She was alert up to about two weeks ago," said Mr. Lee, 55. "Her mind was better than mine."

Her longevity and habit of quoting the Bible had transformed her, in the minds of those who knew her, into a sort of living saint. One of her three grandsons, Mr. Lee, said during the service, "This is not the end. She is going but she is coming back again."

"Oh, no, she didn't mind getting old. She was a happy person who never complained until she became ill and said that she only 'wanted to go home,' " Mrs. Rogers said.

"Elected officials stand before funerals of 12-year-olds, 14-year-olds and 21-year-olds," 6th District Councilman Melvin L. Stukes said at the service. "But to stand before 117 years of life is special."

In his eulogy, the Rev. Leander G. Brown said he had visited Mrs. Mutry the day before she died, and she appeared peaceful. He called her life a model for youth, especially "the young men on the corners" who don't seem to conceive of the possibility of a good, long life.

The minister also quoted Genesis 6:3: "Then the Lord said, 'My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.' "

Mrs. Mutry, Mr. Brown said, came up "only three years short of what God promised."

In addition to her daughter and grandson, Mrs. Mutry is survived by two other grandsons, Leon Lee of Atlanta, and Russell R. Rogers Jr. of Kansas City, Mo.; a granddaughter, Gladys Field of Easton; 12 great-grandchildren, as well as what family members called "a host" of great-great- and great-great-great-grandchildren.

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