By Joel Hall
When Annie Grace Simpson first began attending church at Morrow's Travelers Rest Missionary Baptist Church in 1928, Clayton County was a very different place.
"It was a farming county, in no way what it is now," Simpson said. "There were dirt roads. There weren't many cars then. People would walk for miles," she said. "They walked miles to the morning service, walk all the way back, and came back for the evening service. Some people have cars now, and don't want to go to church."
At the age of 95, Simpson is one of the longest-attending members of the church, which was originally established in 1895 on Joy Lake Road.
Born on July 28, 1915, she has been a witness to the industrialization and urbanization of the county, as well as the establishment of the church's current building, which opened in 1999 at 2112 Rex Road.
Earlier this month, the congregation and leaders at the state and federal levels recognized the life and accomplishments of Simpson, a 14-year member of the church's Mother Board, and its oldest member.
Clayton County officially declared Aug. 1, 2010 as "Annie Grace Simpson Day," during a special ceremony on Sunday, July 31. In addition, Simpson received proclamations and birthday greetings from numerous officials, including the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, Morrow Mayor Jim Millirons, U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue -- even a birthday card from President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama.
The card from the White House reads: "You have witnessed great milestones in our Nation's history, and your life represents an important part of the American story."
Rev. Arthur L. Powell, the church's pastor for 24 years, said Simpson is the first member of the church to reach the age of 95. He said she has served as a stable voice of wisdom for younger women of the church.
"We've never had a member turn 95 before," Powell said. "This was a very big deal, just because of that. Mother Simpson is one of the members we all respect and honor," the pastor said.
"She is one of the calming voices there. If there is something that needs to be said in terms of correcting, she can do it in a way that is not belligerent," said Powell. "She has been a good example for people to follow."
Simpson is more active than many people her age. Until last year, when her eyesight began to fail, she drove herself to church and around Clayton County. In her entire life, Simpson said, she has only been hospitalized twice, and one of those times was to have her tonsils removed.
Simpson said that while she spends a little time walking everyday, Christian living is what has kept her alive for so long. "I've always believed in living right and treating your fellow man right," she said. "I like to see people live a good life, and do the right thing, and do unto others as they would have done to them."
Clayton County District 1 Commissioner Sonna Singleton, a member of Travelers Rest for 10 years, presented Simpson with a proclamation from the county, on July 31. She said Simpson continues to give the church a "small town" feeling.
"People like Mother Simpson ... that is what attracted me to the church," Singleton said. "She just has a lot of wisdom to offer other younger women in the church.
"I've heard a lot of people talk about things she has done for them, personally, so she is a very giving person," the commissioner said. "I've watched Mother Simpson since I have been in the church, and I've learned a lot just observing her -- commitment, loyalty, dedication ... those are things you can mirror in your everyday life."