Susie B. Gibson, 105, earned diploma at age 61

January 14, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Susie Belle Gibson, a Baltimore homemaker who earned her high school diploma at age 61 - and celebrated by dancing at the senior prom - died Saturday of respiratory failure at Good Samaritan Hospital. She was 105.

Mrs. Gibson was married for 33 years, raised seven children in an East Madison Street rowhouse and was a widow for more than half a century.

She put her children through school, but it bothered her that she had not finished high school.

"She went to evening school at Dunbar High School and finally got her high school diploma in 1959. And she also attended her senior prom in the school's gymnasium," said a daughter, Aurora B. Gibson Chambers of Bare Hills.

"Education was important to her. You couldn't miss any days. She didn't believe in letting us stay in bed when we were feeling bad. She made us get up and go to school," Mrs. Chambers said. "And in the evening after dinner, she cleaned the table and then covered it with newspaper. It then became our homework table."

Born Susie Belle Dickerson in Auburn, Ala., the 10th of 13 children, and attended a grade school that had been established with the assistance of Booker T. Washington. After moving to Washington in 1915, she continued her education in city public schools.

She also studied hairdressing there at the school of Madame C. J. Walker, the African-American entrepreneur whose line of cosmetics made her a millionaire.

In 1919, she married Charles Edward Gibson, and the couple settled several years later on East Madison Street.

While her husband worked at Bethlehem Steel Corp. at Sparrows Point, she operated a beauty salon in her home. In the evening, the couple sold confections, coal, wood and kerosene from a basement store in their home. In warm months, they sold fresh fruits and vegetables.

After her husband's death in 1952, Mrs. Gibson remained there until 1973, when she bought a home on Druid Hill Avenue. For the last nine months, she had lived with a daughter in Northwest Baltimore.

Mrs. Gibson did not drink, smoke or drive a car. For many years, she made her way around the city aboard streetcars, buses or walking.

"Milk was a must. She was strong physically. She liked buttermilk and cornbread, and I think that's what kept her here," Mrs. Chambers said.

"She was also a cheerful person who loved to sing. She had a soprano voice and would sing hymns all day long like `Pass Me Not Gentle Savior' or `Life is Like a Mountain Railroad,'" she said.

"She was a very enterprising person," said a grandson, Kim Moir, a Baltimore filmmaker. "She wouldn't sit around waiting for people to do things for her. She was a go-getter. She was also real thrifty. If she could save 25 cents on an item, she'd go clear across town."

"The older we get, the more we realize the values that she had instilled in her family," Mrs. Chambers said.

"She was a very independent person who didn't use a cane until she was in her late 90s. She loved to cook, and when she turned 100, she said, `I'm not going to cook anymore,' " Mrs. Chambers noted.

Mrs. Gibson enjoyed reading and Bible study, and was a member for more than 60 years of First Baptist Church, 525 N. Caroline St., where services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow.

In addition to her daughter and grandson, survivors include a son, Henry L. Gibson of Hampton, Va.; two other daughters, Earlyne T. Gibson Martin Moir and June O. Gibson, both of Baltimore; a sister, Juanita Gillard of Pittsburgh; 15 grandchildren; 11 great-grandchildren; and 37 great-great-grandchildren.

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