Ole Brook woman celebrates 103rd birthday

Published 6:55 pm Friday, February 14, 2020

In her day, Paula Yancey’s grandma could paint the faces of Brookhaven’s finest, cook up a pot of catfish cubion for herself and anyone else hungry and burn the midnight oil playing Yahtzee with her only granddaughter.

Thelma Smith Haley has made the most of her 103 years.

Haley celebrated her 103rd birthday Feb. 2 with a party at Haven Hall. “Dressed to the nines” in black and grey leopard print blouse and black pants with a sequined black sweater, Yancey said Haley enjoyed chocolate cake and coffee, surrounded by most of her immediate family.

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She’d been born on that same day 103 years earlier in her parents’ house in Heucks Retreat, just prior to World War I.

She married Dorris Haley, though she’s a widow now, and they had two children, Sue Haley Nations and Bill Haley.

Haley worked for many years at Benoit’s Department Store in downtown Brookhaven, training to expertly apply the latest trends in makeup to the ladies of Lincoln County.

“She probably sold half of Brookhaven makeup,” Yancey said.

Yancey worked with her during her high school years, when she attended Brookhaven Academy, and they slip away to Hudgey’s for lunch. Haley’s favorite was the chopped steak, Yancey recalls. And though she enjoyed working with her grandmother, it was the playtime of her youth she loved the best.

Haley fixed a bunch of food for the young girl and Yancey would spend the day with her aunt down the street from her grandma’s and wait for her to come home.

“I couldn’t wait for her to get home at night because she would stay up all night long and play board games with me,” she said.

They’d sit in the floor and play.

“She was always so much fun,” she said.

She also remembers Haley was a wonderful cook — an award winner even. Her grandmother took a top honor for her roux-based fish stew in The Daily Leader Wooden Spoon cookbook.

“She cooked for everybody,” she said. “They’d come from all over the country to eat her food.”

From her children, Sue and John Paul Nations, and Bill and Carol Haley, Haley has been fortunate to enjoy two grandchildren — Paula Nations Yancey and husband, Jim, and and Joel Nations and wife, Neely, and six great-grandchildren — Landon Stennett and his wife, April, Brian Yancey, Beaux Yancey, Haley Nations, Lynsey Nations and Paul Nations.

Yancey believes lots of good vegetable crops kept Haley healthy, but she’s sure her mood shaped her attitude the most.

“I think her real secret is that she’s always happy,” she said.