Weekend reunion brings five generations together

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 13, 2003

Many blessings have brightened the nine decades of Lillie Irving’s full and active life. None has been more important than family.

Today, surrounded by relatives numbering about the same as her years, 96, Irving will reminisce with them but will not spend all her time looking back. She has too much still to look forward to, she said, her bright eyes twinkling.

A teacher for 46 years, Irving began her career at age 18, with pupils in grades one through eight in a country schoolhouse. &uot;I taught just about everything,&uot; she said. What’s more, she and the students began every day with a prayer and devotional period, something she regrets public schools cannot continue with the same fervor as in her day.

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The weekend reunion that brings Irving’s relatives from as far away as California and Michigan is a traditional one. Irving, Knight, Smith and Haywood branches have converged in Natchez to meet, picnic, play &045; and, of course, worship together.

&uot;Her motto always has been that the family who prays together stays together,&uot; said Rosa Demby, principal at Holy Family Catholic School and one of Irving’s daughters. &uot;We prayed together every day. Our father, her husband, was a pastor, and he taught us to love one another and everybody else.&uot;

On Sunday, the reunion families will fill Greater Mount Bethel Baptist Church for worship. Irving will be right at home, as she spends much of her time at church activities there. &uot;She is very active as a deaconess and attends everything that goes on at the church,&uot; Demby said.

Tall, slim and strikingly pretty, Irving wears her years well. Her secret is her faith, she said. &uot;I believe the Lord takes care of me,&uot; she said, adding that she also feels surrounded by love from all her family.

Daughter Bertha Gilmore said that taking her mother to the doctor for checkups is a treat. &uot;She’s never been in the hospital, and when she goes to the doctor he is just amazed at her.&uot;

Gilmore said a strong faith in God always has been important in the family.

&uot;I believe faith has been the undergirding link in all our successes,&uot; she said of the eight children and two stepchildren her mother reared.

&uot;We came up very poor, but we were blessed with parents who were wonderful examples for us. My mother was a great role model and an inspiration &045; a dynamic mother and wife.&uot;

Her daughters still enjoy their mother’s cooking. &uot;She is a marvelous cook and still loves to cook for us,&uot; Demby said. &uot;She is completely independent.&uot;

The five generations at the reunion will come from near and far and will represent many different successes in family life and careers. There are teachers, of course; there also are lawyers, doctors, nurses and engineers, among other careers among the family.

Irving plans to accept gladly all the love and attention handed out to her, as the oldest member of the family present at the reunion.

The youngest, Tay Tanna Winston, 17 months old and Demby’s granddaughter, has come from California. &uot;I like to have my family close to me,&uot; Irving said. &uot;I like to feel how they love me.&uot;