Willie Pearl Porter died on March 15. She was 105.
Her son Albert Porter said his mother was the oldest-living recipient of Social Security in Liberty City. Porter always had the same answer any time someone asked her of her secret for living well past the century mark.
Her son chuckles when he recounts her response. He would always lovingly admonish his mother, “Please don’t say that!”
But she always would. “She had a sense of humor.”
Willie Porter’s secret to longevity: “I don’t drink. I don’t smoke and I don’t lift my dress up.”
Porter knew what she wanted out of life right from childhood in Milton, Florida. She reminisced by saying, “When we were little and playing games as children, we played doctor, and I refused to play if I could not be the nurse.”
This playtime, in a country embroiled in World War I through her seventh birthday, would lead to a life of healing and teaching. Porter, born Oct. 5, 1911, became a registered nurse after completing her training at Freedman’s Hospital School of Nursing in Washington, D.C., in 1935.
In 1937, she was appointed supervisor of nurses at Florida A&M College Hospital in Tallahassee and earned a bachelor’s in sociology at the school and a master’s in medical and surgical nursing from Indiana University. After 28 years at Florida A&M, she moved to Miami in 1965.
Here, she joined the nursing staff of the former Christian Hospital in Brownsville and became the first African-American to instruct in the School of Practical Nursing at Mount Sinai Medical Center. She later taught at Miami Jackson and Miami Senior high schools, where she retired in 1973.
A couple weeks before Christmas in 2012, Porter enjoyed a visit to her home by Miami Dolphins safety Reshad Jones. She was, arguably, the oldest Dolphins fan in town and, with her husband, the late Dr. Gilbert Lawrence Porter, a season ticket holder since the first season in 1966.
By 90, mobility issues kept her from her seat in Section 107, Row 21, but never from her TV on a game day. “I still buy my ticket so that nobody can sit in my seat that’s not a good Dolphins fan,” she told the Miami Herald during Jones’ visit. “I don’t go, but I sit here and look and yell and stuff because I love them Dolphins.”
Who was more excited that day — the football star or the mega fan? “I’m a bigger fan of hers than she is of the Dolphins,” Jones told the Herald at the time. “It’s bigger for me to meet her than her to meet me.”
Porter gave Jones a pep talk. “I’m 101 and I don’t have Alzheimer’s,” she said. “I’m 20 years old from the head to the waist, but from the waist on down, I’m 100.”
Over the years, Porter received numerous accolades, including The National Black Nurses Association’s Nurse of the Year award in 1983, when she was volunteering around Miami, and its Award of Excellence in 2008. She was deemed Citizen and Volunteer of the Year by the American Heart Association in 1991, the same year Florida A&M University inducted her into its Gallery of Distinction for the School of Nursing.
At 90, Porter established the Willie Pearl Porter Nursing Scholarship Fund for high school students to pursue a degree in nursing. Ten scholarships for $1,000 have been given to recipients who attended Florida A&M, University of Central Florida and Howard University.
“She wanted to do something outstanding and different,” said her son of his mother’s interest in nursing. Her mother was a teacher and a midwife. As a girl, she’d tag along and learn. “That enticed her to go in that direction.” Her only rule for her children: get an education, from grade school through graduate school.
“She had a love of America, always sang ‘God Bless America.’ Loved Obama, loved politics,” Albert Porter said. “She was just a great person. Anybody surrounded by her walked away with enthusiasm.”
Porter is also survived by her daughter Laurestine Porter, sister Audrey Davis and two grandchildren. A litany will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and funeral at 1 p.m. Saturday, both at Church of the Incarnation, 1835 NW 54th St.