Earl Heath | Guest Contributor
Many of us marvel at people who live to be one hundred-years-old and in the coming days there will be a bundle of knowledge, joy and wisdom who will be 104.
She was born Helen Beatrice Cox on May 1st 1917 in Gibsland, Louisiana just outside of Shreveport. It’s a small town best known for the Ambush Museum that got its name because that’s where Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were gunned down by more than 30 Southern lawmen. The actual spot is about a half mile from the home Helen grew up in.
Helen was one of eight children with a drive for life and a will to help people that was hard to match. She has survived the Flu Pandemic of 1918 and Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020.
She has experienced the progression of America’s growth from the horse and buggy to the Model-T-Ford into today’s computerized age with social media, laptops and cellphones.
While young, Helen had a dream to attend college, however with seven other siblings, her parents could not afford to send her and that left Helen with very few options.
She made a life changing choice and decided to marry the love of her life, Hardy J. Williams. In 1939 the couple migrated to Los Angeles where her first job was at Murphy’s Ranch in Whittier, picking fruit.
They worked as a team and pooled together enough money to create Williams Market at 41st and Compton Ave, in South Los Angeles that later became Compton Refrigeration. It was one of the first Black-owned businesses in the area. All this occurred while Hardy worked in San Pedro at the Shipyard and later for the City of Los Angeles in maintenance.
A Mind for Business
Helen was adept at being creative and a major part of making the family property in Louisiana–that came into the family in 1880–profitable. Some 240 acres of it is leased for oil mineral rights and grazing; and some of it to the “Safari” Hunting Club, also known as Sportsman Paradise, in Arcadia, LA. Income from the land assisted with tax payments for several decades and that continues today.
The soon to be 104-year-old, created a strong family foundation for three boys, Hardy Jr., Jimmy, Don and one daughter, Sally Williams. She made sure they all attended college.
Sally went on to teach for forty-years in the Los Angeles Unified school District. Jimmy retired after years with L.A. City Recreation and Parks, Hardy became a high school football coach, and Don worked as a speech therapist.
Her most enjoyable days came after they all graduated from college.
Helen has been a “God Force” and is presently the oldest living member of St. Paul’s Baptist Church located at 49th and Main St. in Los Angeles. She used her wisdom and the gift of giving to help so many.
Singer songwriter Billy Preston and sister Rodena Preston were members of St Paul’s. Billy was a talented musician. In his youth, Preston also had overnight stays in her home. She mentored both Prestons on life-long lessons.
“What are you going to do with your music skills?” She would ask a young Billy. Preston’s talents rose to prominence and at 16 years of age he went on to play with John, Paul, George and Ringo and became known as the “Fifth Beatle.” He later went on to release more than 15 albums while Rodena went on to become Dr. Rodena Preston.
Blues great John Lee Hooker became a family friend and rented a trailer on the Williams’ property. After spending weeks on the road he’d return to the comforts of home.
In the fifties and sixties Helen developed sound relationships with the businesses on historic Central Ave. in Los Angeles.
Life After 60
The older she got, the more she did for herself and the community. She received her AA Degree from Southwest College and earned her B. S. Degree from Immaculate Heart University at the age of 62.
Helen continued her hobbies of gardening and cooking for years. She wrote poems and created words in rhythmic patterns. One such poem “The Wheels of Justice“ caught the attention of Federal Judge the Honorable Spencer J Lett. He thought so much of the poem, it now hangs on his Chamber wall.
Her latest poetry book “From Birth to Longevity” published by Morris Publishing, is a compilation of her relationship experiences with family, community and church.
You can listen to her lifetime interview on Archives Story-Corps at the American Folklore Center in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.
Today Helen lives in the View Park section of Los Angeles in the home she’s owned since 1961.Though she now has caretakers who assist her, she still composes Spoken Word Poems.
At 104 her reflection on life is with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren; they are a constant reminder of what she once stated, “Being a giver is much better than being a taker-and you must trust in God.”