BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — On Halloween 1916, Jesse and Cora Oliver were definitely not tricked. They both received a treat in form of a precious baby girl named Jessie Mae.
Jessie Mae Oliver-Thompson, known as Mrs. Jay, was born in Shady Grove, Ala., 100 years ago. She celebrated her birthday with scores of family and family last month at the Bay Vista Recreation Center.
Mrs. Jay moved from Alabama with her family to St. Petersburg in the early 1920s. She married the love of her life in 1934, Archie Lee Thompson, and they built a life for themselves and their three children.
“She was always a hard worker,” said her daughter Deloris Lee. “She was never a stay-at-home mom, but she was there when we needed her.”
Mrs. Jay worked many jobs in her lifetime, but her favorite and the one she retired from was being a nursing assistant at St. Anthony’s Hospital.
Constance Riley, left and Jay Thompson
Family members came as far away as California and Connecticut to wish the matriarch of the Thompson family a happy birthday.
“She’s a wonderful, wonderful person. She’s in better shape than I am right now,” said her 79-year-old son Bobby Thompson.
Bobby revealed that Mrs. Jay just recently gave up driving. “We thought we were going to have to make her stop, but she decided on her own,” he said laughingly because he knows that no one can stop his mother from doing what she wants.
Mrs. Jay is a regular at Enoch Davis Center. Bingo is her game. But this feisty centenarian told her son Bobby that the “people there have gotten too old.”
Her son Archie Jr. could not say enough about how his mother made sure all her children went to college, even though she never graduated high school.
“She had that vision that all of us would go to college,” he said. Archie explained that his father was a laborer and his mother a maid, but “she saw the need for all of us to go to school.”
The only question in that household about college was Florida A&M or Bethune-Cookman. “She made sure we had it better than they did,” Archie Jr. said.
“She’s awesome. She’s been my backbone for most of my life,” said the oldest granddaughter Debra Thompson-Still. “She’s a handful sometimes, and she’s healthier than all of us.”
“Her name is Jessie, but don’t never call her that. She’s Jay,” said Darrell Thompson, the oldest grandson. “She’s a handful.”
Darrell recounted how she thought him how to show respect. He made the mistake of saying “yah” instead of “yes” and that was a lesson he’s never forgotten.
“I learned that when I was small. I never said “yah” again.”
Granddaughter Gail Thompson Washington said she can remember Mrs. Jay out in the backyard playing with all the grandchildren, and once they got older she would always dispense advice and was always very supportive. “She is a wonderful grandmother.”
Mrs. Jay has been a faithful member of Bethel Community even before it was Bethel Community. When she became a member in the early 1920s, the church was known as Second Bethel.
“She’s a quiet supporter and has always had the ability to make her presence make a difference,” said Rev. Manuel Sykes. “Not real talkative, but people look up to her and listen to her.”
Having a few congregation members reach the age of 100, Sykes would like to get their stories put down in writing for future generations.
“I believe they could teach us how to live life,” he said. “If we’re still experiencing it [racism] today, you can only image what they had to live through, but also how they survived it. How to survive it physically without somebody killing you; how to survive it emotionally and psychologically because no human being is born for oppression.”
“What a wonderful day and a wonderful time to celebrate my sister’s 100th birthday,” said Pastor Constance Riley of Center of Restoration Prayer Ministry and Mrs. Jay’s baby sister. “How many families have that honor to have a relative to live 100 years?”
The afternoon ended with a spirited game of Family Feud and a lovely dinner.