After standing in line for several hours to vote in the 2012 presidential election, Desiline Victor got the surprise of a lifetime.
The then-102-year-old from North Miami was invited to sit in the first lady’s box as former President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address.
“We should follow the example of a North Miami woman named Desiline Victor,” Obama said during his Feb. 12, 2013, speech. “When Desiline arrived at her polling place, she was told to wait to vote, might be six hours. As time ticked by her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say. Hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line in support of her. Because Desiline is 102 years old. And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read, ‘I Voted.’”
Victor, known as “Granny,” became a local celebrity, encouraging others to vote and inspiring a foundation named after her that focuses on voter education. After shaking her godson’s hand, as a way of saying goodbye, Victor died Sept. 24. She was 106.
“She lived a beautiful life,” said close friend Carline Paul, who, like others called her Granny. “She was always a focused person. If she wanted something, she worked hard to make it happen.”
Born Dec. 15, 1910, Victor grew up in a farming community in Gonaives, Haiti. In Haiti, women weren’t granted the right to vote until 1957. Even then, she didn’t feel like she could.
“I never voted in Haiti — it wasn't safe,” she told a reporter in 2013. “In this country, I have the right to vote. In Haiti, I did not.”
In 1989, Victor came to Miami with a visa from the American Embassy to get a job and provide for her family.
The then-79-year-old worked as a migrant farm worker, stripping beans in Belle Glade’s fields. Victor, who had no children of her own, was eventually able to bring her godson and nephew in Haiti to the United States with her.
In 2005, Victor became a naturalized citizen. She voted for the first time in 2008, during the presidential election. She was 97.
When the 2012 election came around, Victor was determined to vote for Obama.
“He loves the old people,” she told a reporter at the time.
Paul, who said she waited with her, said Victor was tired and sore, but wouldn’t call it a day.
For her determination, she got invited to the White House.
“It was very emotional for her,” her godson, Mathieu Pierre-Louis, said.
After her visit, she became a bit of a celebrity. She received accolades from Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, Miami-Dade commissioners Jean Monestime and Audrey M. Edmonson, former North Miami Mayor André Pierre, and School Board member Dorothy Bendross-Mandingall, among others.
For the 2016 presidential election, the community came together to welcome her to the North Miami Library, where they opened the Desiline Victor Voting Wing. She arrived in a limousine and was ushered in to cast her vote.
“She took voting very seriously because she realized it was a privilege,” Paul said.
A viewing will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at the First Haitian Baptist Church, 15395 North Miami Ave. Victor’s funeral will be from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the same church. Burial will follow at Southern Memorial Park Cemetery, 15000 W. Dixie Highway.