They started out on a farm in rural Georgia, identical twins bound by birth and time.
Now, a century later, Mary Shipp Harrow and Martha Shipp Averett are still journeying together. On Saturday, they celebrated their 100th birthday at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center, where more than 300 relatives and friends gathered for the special occasion.
The sisters survived World War I, World War II and the Great Depression, as well as more recent historic events such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Great Recession. One of the highlights of their lives was the election of President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, who both women voted for at ages 92 and 96, their children said.
In separate interviews with the Ledger-Enquirer, the twins said they had no idea they would live this long, but it’s certainly a blessing. They credited their longevity to faith, family and peace of mind.
“God gave us the strength and the power to go on in his name,” Martha said Friday while preparing for the big birthday bash.
Mary said she’s glad they reached the milestone together, just like always.
“We were just one, not two,” she said of their relationship over the years. “There is no difference.”
Mary and Martha were born in Cusseta, Ga., on July 2, 1916, to the late Martha Walker Shipp and the late Quilbert Shipp, two public school teachers in Chattahoochee County. They were the oldest of eight children — seven girls and one boy. The twins and their brother, Lincoln, are the only ones still living.
Mary said the family started out on a farm in Cusseta where they had to work hard to survive.
“We raised hogs, chicken, ducks and everything else,” she said. “We grew corn, cotton, peanuts and all that stuff.”
She said they grew up in a Christian home where they learned to love God and cherish family. Both twins completed secondary school, which only went up to ninth grade at the time they matriculated, their children said
In 1947, Mary moved to Columbus with her parents and her late husband, Isaac Daniel Harrow Sr. She worked domestic jobs for prominent families in the community, while her husband worked at the Lummus Cotton Gin.
The couple had five daughters and two sons, both now deceased. Mary now has 21 grandchildren, 30 great grandchildren and 12 great great-grandchildren.
On Friday, she sat in the Columbus home where she has lived for nearly 60 years. She was surrounded by three of her daughters — Gerri Jones, Christine Jones and Beverly Caldwell. They reminisced about Mary’s life as a dedicated wife, mother and employee. She has lived a life of faith and taught them to do the same.
Mary was also a real trooper. She never learned to drive and traveled by bus to get most places.
“I walked more than I rode,” she quipped during the interview.
Martha, who remained in Cusseta, married the late Rev. Jesse Averett Sr. They had six daughters and four sons, one of whom is deceased. She has 21 grandchildren, 29 great grandchildren and two great great-grandchildren.
Martha’s daughter, Amanda Thornton of Virginia, said her mother aspired to be a school teacher like her parents and passed an exam that qualified her to teach in the Chattahoochee County Public School District. But she stayed home to raise her children, and also worked as a housekeeper and caregiver for a family in Cusseta.
She said her mother’s greatest joy was seeing two of her sons become ministers and all of her children progress in life. She said her mother has had some health challenges in recent weeks, but her mind is still very strong.
“She doesn’t have any problems with remembering things, so that’s a blessing,” she said. “She makes a lot of decisions for the family. She’s our matriarch and we try to honor what she says, even now.”
Thornton said it has been amazing to watch her mother and aunt grow to such a ripe age, especially being African-American women who didn’t always have access to medical advances.
“I just thank God because, really, this is a miracle,” she said.
Both women still live independently in their homes with the help of caregivers. They were in good health until recent years when they began to face some health challenges related to age, their children said. They spend their days watching CNN to keep up with current events and stay in touch with family.
“A lot of times I’ll have her Facetime with my grandchildren in Connecticut so they can talk and see her at the same time,” said Mary’s daughter, Gerri Jones, who lives in Atlanta. “They don’t get to visit that often, but they could still have the opportunity to see her through the computer, which of course was unheard of during her time.”
The sisters also speak to each other by phone daily, just to encourage one another.
“We have the same spirit and the same determination to go on,” Martha said. “I think that has kept us alive.”