In 1909, construction began on the RMS Titanic, three years before she would sink on her maiden voyage.
William Howard Taft began his four-year stint as the 27th president of the United States. Kinemacolor, the first successful color motion picture process, was invented, and the U.S. Army Signal Corps Division bought the world’s first military airplane from the Wright Brothers.
And Opal Leedy was born in Sullivan County.
Leedy celebrated her 109th birthday Thursday surrounded by friends and family. Mayor Jenny Brock, Vice Mayor Joe Wise and Commissioner John Hunter stopped by to present Leedy with a key to the city and a proclamation marking Dec. 27, 2018, as Opal Leedy Day.
Leedy’s brother, Glay Hood, also paid his older sister a visit. He is 101 years old, and brought Leedy a gift in a bright purple bag — a photo of the two of them.
Leedy was born in Sullivan County, but lived much of her later life in Unicoi County. She was the seventh of 10 children born to Dutton and Alice Hood, and grew up on a farm in a community near Fall Branch known as Possum Trot. She married her husband, Dave, in 1925. Her husband’s job at the state highway department kept the family moving until the late 1930s, when they settled in Unicoi.
She and her husband would raise three children, and nieces and nephews who remember a fond childhood with their aunt Opal. Ruth Linville said Leedy was always her favorite aunt, and said that staying over with Leedy became one of her cherished memories.
“She’s one of the sweetest ladies that you’ve ever met,” Linville said. “She touched a lot of people in her lifetime.”
“She was always a spiritual inspiration for me,” her nephew Roy Leedy said. “She’s just a model mother, and a model aunt and I really appreciate her.
“She’s loved by a lot of people.”
Above all, Leedy’s family remembers her as a giver — someone whose selfless actions touched many lives through her own. She was an active member at Unicoi Free Will Baptist Church, taking on any task where her assistance was needed and helping people throughout her life.
Her daughter, Robbie Higgins, was born in 1933. Higgins, now 85, said she remembers her mother taking care of all the children in the neighborhood — Leedy would make peanut butter sandwiches and drinks, marking their yard as the No. 1 hangout spot in the neighborhood.
Some of Higgins’ earliest memories include Christmases full of handmade gifts from her mother. Even though the Great Depression took its toll on their family, Higgins remembered that her mother was always trying to make the holidays special for her children.
“She was a good mother. We never went to bed hungry, even though we didn’t have a whole lot,” she said. “We never had riches, but we had love.”
Email Jessica Fuller at [email protected] Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.