Eight months ago, Mrs. Mary Lockett received a birthday surprise – a parade of well-wishers, including police and fire vehicles with sirens wailing and lights flashing, driving past her South Kenmore Street home in honor of her 104th birthday.
And on Oct. 6, the Virginia House of Delegates sent its own special greetings, perhaps a little tardy but still very much appreciated.
“I cannot tell you how much I enjoy these moments,” Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington-Fairfax) said in presenting Mrs. Lockett with the resolution honoring her “wisdom, grace [and] integrity” as a “highly admired community leader” of “deep and abiding faith.”
Legislators in the lower house of the legislature passed the measure, patroned by Lopez, unanimously in August.
The lady at the center of attention has spent 82 of her 104 (and a half) years in Arlington’s Green Valley neighborhood. She and her late husband, Edward, raised four children, who themselves have provided her with grandchildren and great-grandchildren galore.
“I’ve been through good times and hard times – the good Lord has kept me going,” Mrs. Lockett told the Sun Gazette during the Oct. 6 ceremony. She reminisced about events that included working in the Pentagon at its earliest days, and told the tale of her and her husband planning their new home in the mid-1950s. She remains there to this day.
“We built this house from scratch,” Mrs. Lockett said, noting that while they weren’t able to pay the bricklayers in cash – “the best,” she said of their work – they made up for it by feeding them after a long day’s work.
“I made them porkchops,” Mrs. Lockett said.
At the time, the Green Valley neighborhood (known alternately at the time as Nauck) was one of the few places African-Americans could live in the still-rigidly-segregated Arlington. Kenmore Street was “a dirt and mud road,” Mrs. Lockett remembered, with tracks guiding a local trolley line bringing residents to Rosslyn and the District of Columbia.
Through the decades, Mrs. Lockett has been actively involved as a deaconess in her church (Mount Pleasant Baptist in Alexandria), and was a key member of the Nauck Civic Association.
“I worked with them for a long time,” she recalled.
Her charming and well-kept home is emblematic of a woman who lives life on her terms. Mrs. Lockett rises early (5 a.m. is typical) and is ready to turn in for the day after “Wheel of Fortune” concludes at 7:30 p.m. Long a fan of blueberries, she continues to tout their healthy properties as a secret to longevity.
Lopez conceived the idea of a legislative resolution honoring her life after reading about that 104th-birthday celebration.
“It’s about honoring someone who’s given so much to the community,” he said. “All the history that she’s seen – such an inspiration.”
Mrs. Lockett was born on Feb. 7, 1917, to Edward and Annie Sheppard of nearby Baileys Crossroads, the sixth (and last surviving) of eight siblings. Her birth year is shared with the likes of John F. Kennedy, Ella Fitzgerald, Dean Martin, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Desi Arnaz, and Mrs. Lockett shares her Feb. 7 birthdate with another notable Arlingtonian, Katie Couric.