By Ron Hayes
DELRAY BEACH — When President Barack Obama brought his re-election campaign to the Delray Beach Tennis Center on Oct. 23, 2012, one sign caught his eye.
“I’m 103,” the sign said, and an elderly black woman got a warm hug from the nation’s first black president.
Eula Johnson was already 51 years old when Obama was born in 1961. She was 14 when Delray Beach was incorporated in 1923, and 60 in 1969, when she moved to the house on Lake Ida Road where she would live for nearly another half century.
Miss Johnson died at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 8, two days after her 109th birthday, the matriarch of a huge family and the city’s oldest resident.
“She had fallen and cracked her wrist, but she was still sharp,” said her grandson Anthony Perez, who cared for Miss Johnson in her final months, along with her daughters, Mildred Perez and Mazetta Coleman. “She stayed in the Bible from beginning to end, always quoting scripture. A couple of weeks before she passed, I heard her humming hymns. She couldn’t sing, so she was humming.”
Eula Mae Johnson was born Aug. 6, 1909, in Bartow, Ga., the granddaughter of a slave. She left school in the seventh grade, rode wagons, picked beans, worked a mule plow and married at 19.
In 1935, she arrived in Boca Raton to pick beans on Butts Farm. She was 26. Boca Raton was 10.
After spending the 1950s and ’60s in Brooklyn, N.Y., Miss Johnson retired to Delray Beach and a house she had built for $17,000.
Married three times, she divorced two husbands and was widowed by a third.
“I birthed 16 children into the world,” she told The Coastal Star last year. “Seven sons and nine daughters. They were all pretty … pretty good.”
In her younger years, she had visited Canada, Detroit and Las Vegas, but was hard-pressed to name a foreign land she’d like to see.
“England,” she said at last, but without conviction. Her life in retirement centered on her family, fishing, and the elaborate backyard garden where she raised her own greens, sweet potatoes, cabbage and cantaloupe.
“I’d have a drink, but I’m not a drinker,” she said. “I never smoked, and I eat whatever my taste calls for. That’s what I eat.”
She favored ribs, collard greens, burgers and biscuits, but had given up on macaroni and cheese.
“Cheese will bind you up,” she warned.
At 92, she gave up driving after receiving a ticket for going 42 in a 25-mph zone.
“I just quit,” she insisted, “Nobody stopped me.”
She loved old TV reruns of The Andy Griffith Show, and butter pecan ice cream, but her Christian faith was her lifelong source of spiritual nourishment and celebration.
“I’ve learned a lot,” she said. “Be kind to everybody. I read the Bible and pray every day.”
What, she was asked, does she pray for?
“I pray to live to see tomorrow,” she said.
In addition to seven surviving children, Miss Johnson leaves behind 35 grandchildren, 65 great-grandchildren, 52 great-great-grandchildren, and more than a dozen great-great-great-grandchildren.
A memorial service was held at Johnson’s Memorial Chapel in Boynton Beach on Aug. 18, followed by burial in Delray Beach Memorial Gardens.