Remarkable Rutherford Woman: At 106, she may be county’s oldest person

Connie Esh, The Murfreesboro Post, March 14, 2017

Mabel Robertson’s memories spanning more than a century include 19 presidents, her granddaddy’s homing pony, 15 years at the old Sunshine Hosiery Mills, and nearly 50 years of marriage. JOHN BUTWELL

Mabel Robertson was awarded a key to the city by Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland for her birthday.

“I’ve been told I’m the oldest person in Rutherford County,” she said – and McFarland pointed out that makes her the “wisest” person in Murfreesboro as well.

Way back in the winter of 1911 when Robertson was born, she recalled, “we didn’t have the facilities you do now.” But she said her parents had a pair of mules and a wagon to get around – and her grandpa drove a very smart pony named Dolly.

‘Self-driving buggy’

“Granddaddy would put her to the buggy and drive to town,” Robertson said. “And when he got all done, he’d say to her, ‘Dolly, let’s go home.’ Then he’d get up in the buggy and sleep while she took him home.”

This remarkable Rutherford woman – more than a century young – continued with the story: “Dolly would come to the Bradyville Pike and turn down through here and take him on home. He’d wake up when she stopped in the yard.”

And when the mayor asked her what she wants him and the city to do for her, she replied, “You can do a lot. Widen Bradyville Pike. This road is the worst in the state.”

McFarland had to tell her that Bradyville Pike is a state highway, so the city can’t fix it.

The only thing city officials can do is beg the state to fund the needed repairs.

‘Don’t wait too long’

So then Robertson wanted to know why the state hasn’t fixed the road. “You can ride out through the county here and yonder, and the roads are all good,” she pointed out. “Why not Bradyville?”

When the mayor promised he’d do everything he could to get the pike fixed, Robertson’s

cousin Ralph Puckett quipped, “She’s 106 – don’t wait too long.”

Roads are important to Robertson, who only quit driving her own car four years ago, when she broke her hip at 102.

Before that, she took herself wherever she needed to go – including sometimes driving in circles, according to Robertson’s neighbor Carolyn Wilson, who has lived across the street from her for decades.

‘Charging her battery’

One day, not long before Robertson quit driving, Wilson saw her out driving her car from behind her house out to the front yard – and then in a circle around her front yard, and back behind the house.

“She came out in the front yard again and then a third time,” Wilson said. “Then she disappeared behind the house. I waited until she had time to get back inside – then I called her.”

When Robertson answered the phone, Wilson asked why she was driving in circles in her yard. “She told me she wanted to be sure the battery in her car was charged, but she didn’t need to go anyplace.”

When the laughter died down, Puckett chimed in with, “She’s a treasure. When we have old pictures, we bring them to Mabel and she knows everybody in them.”

A special picture

This year, Robertson received a restored old photo for her 106th birthday. The picture was originally one that Wilson’s late husband Floyd bought in a box at an auction.

The vintage picture shows the workers at the old Sunshine Hosiery Mills on Vine Street in Murfreesboro. But Floyd hadn’t noticed that his mother-in-law Waldene Rogers was among the hundreds of employees in the picture – all lined up in Roaring Twenties attire.

“Several years ago, I took it out of the closet, and then I noticed my mother was in it,” Wilson recalls. And when she took the picture across Bradyville Pike to show it to Robertson, not only did she recognize Waldene – she recognized herself, front and center.

“Miss Mabel saw it and said she was in it,” Wilson described. “She said, ‘I want that picture.'”

Tom Christy at Shacklett Photography was able to restore it, and Robertson also was able to tell her neighbor that the picture was taken in 1928 – the first year she worked at the hosiery mill, at only 17 years old.

Earned $7.25 a week

“If you were on starvation, it was a good place to work,” she quipped. The pay was $7.25 a week, she adds – emphasizing, “A week.”

But Robertson worked at the mill as an inspector for 15 years, through the Great Depression when jobs were hard to find. And she admitted, “It was a good place to work and I enjoyed it – I knew a lot of people.”

After the hosiery mill job, Robertson found work at Chromalox, which manufactured electrical parts, where she worked until she retired.

In 1936, she also met her husband Murray Lysander Robertson, a foreman at Sewart Air Force Base (now the Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport).

At the time, she spent her weekends at her brother and sister-in-law’s home, and he came visiting. They married later that year and had been married almost 50 years when he died in the late 1980s.

‘Nineteen US presidents’

In addition to Rutherford County history, Robertson’s life spans quite a bit of US history. William Howard Taft was president when she was born, and she’s lived to see 19 presidents total – although she admits she doesn’t remember them all.

“Let’s see, I remember Roosevelt,” she said, referring to FDR.

But when her cousin asked her about Herbert Hoover, she said, “Huh! Hoover, who wouldn’t remember him?” Hearing the disdain in her tone, her cousin pointed out, “She never liked Hoover.”

She also has strong opinions about the current president, calling him “Old MacDonald


This remarkable Rutherford woman is always pleased to share her opinions, especially if they make her friends and family laugh. And with 106 years of living behind her, she has experienced plenty to share her opinions about.

Mayor McFarland promised he’d be back next year, for her 107th.

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