ST. PETERSBURG – “I don’t know if you heard me, but I said 100 years!” boomed Roderick Green, the Master of Ceremony at his grandmother’s 100th birthday party.
The Crystal Ballroom in Clearwater was decked out in gold and black Monday night in honor of Lizzie Donald’s centennial birthday. As she sat on her golden throne, her family and friends stood in line to take selfies with her and show their love.
Family came from as far away as Iowa to see celebrate the matriarch’s life. All of 98 pounds, she’s affectionately referred to as Big Mama or Bigs. Obviously not for her size, what Mrs. Lizzie possesses is a big heart.
Born August 7, 1917, in a small town in Mississippi called Lake Cormorant to Manzy and Ada Alexander, she has nine siblings who were all raised on a farm.
Green painted a picture of life when his grandmother was growing up in the beginning of the 20th century. She would often travel all day alongside her father to pick up necessary supplies in a neighboring town.
“Some days would be extremely cold and the ride was long,” he said, adding that her father would heat a brick and put it in the bottom of the carriage to keep them warm.
That’s right; there were no cars, only horse and carriages.
As a youngster, she spent many days in the fields of Mississippi picking cotton and other crops.
“Days were long and survival was at the forefront of her daily activities,” said Green, who revealed his grandmother was a chicken whisperer.
Mrs. Lizzie was responsible for the health of chickens on the farm. Without any formal veterinary training, she would nurse them back to health.
“It was trial and error, some of them didn’t make it,” Green said to a room full of laughter.
He also revealed that grits were an upstart meal back when she was a little girl.
“Could you image no fish and grits, no shrimp and grits, no eggs and grits? Come on now.”
She married James Donald in the early 1930s and they eventually moved to Tampa in 1962 with the family in tow. Settling down in St. Pete, the family joined Greater Mt. Zion AME. She raised her three girls up in that church and still attends to this day.
“In the early days when we were young we had to walk to church,” said daughter Deloris Green-Foster. “That was just part of our teaching and our raising.”
Mrs. Lizzie was a hard worker who always held down a job and took care of her husband and children.
“She rose early to make sure she had lunch and breakfast prepared for her husband, went to work, wash clothes, cleaned the house, prepared dinner all in the same day, and did it the next,” said Green.
“She has always cared about people; done the best that she could for people and she tried to raise us right,” said her oldest daughter Jacquelyn Wilcher.
What hungry grandchild doesn’t have a food story about their grandmother? Certainly not Green, for Mrs. Lizzie is known for her pineapple cake, or P-cake as the family refers to it.
“Every Christmas, each time I sink my teeth into that cake, it’s on the money,” Green said. “Other family members have tried to replicate the cake, but it’s not the same.”
Green said his grandmother was consistent and disciplined. How else could she grow up and raise a family in Jim Crow America, live through six generations and still have the strength to bake?
Born during the so-called GI generation, Mr. Lizzie grew up without radio, television or even a refrigerator.
“Their depression was the great one, their war was the big one, their poverty was the legendary ‘happy days’ and they saved the world and built the country,” said Green, who revealed that Mrs. Lizzie’s husband helped build bridges all over the United States including the first Skyway Bridge.
Mrs. Lizzie “used it up, fixed it up, made it up or did without.”
“I’ve seen her save wrapping paper from Christmas gifts. Paper plates were not thrown away; you could wash them and use them again,” laughed Green.
Rep. Charlie Crist, Senator Darryl Rouson, Mayor Rick Kriseman, Rep. Wengay Newton, Chief of Police Anthony Holloway, Watson Haynes from the Pinellas County Urban League and all of the Pinellas County Commissioners sent their gratitude and congratulations.