life well lived
mary lynn wingate has chalked up 106 years of travel, family and community involvement
By MEGAN PHILLIPS
Sun Staff Writer
Mary Lynn Wingate will turn 106 this month. Born in 1912 in east Tennessee, Mary Lynn has lived a long life full of travel and a loving family.
Her youthful, fun spirit paired with her positive attitude have attributed to her many years, her daughter Carolyn said. The fourth of five children, she has outlived all her siblings.
The Northsider attended Farragut High School, where she graduated at the age of just 16. Immediately following graduation she started working in millinery, designing hats for her brother-in-law’s department store.
“That was the popular place for everybody to come let her do their hats,” Carolyn, said. “She was like a fashion coordinator. She helped people with their outfits. She was a wonderful, stylish dresser.”
In 1933, at the age of 21, Mary Lynn married her husband, James, who was a veterinarian. Almost immediately, the couple traveled to Puerto Rico, where James was stationed in order to help with a cattle epidemic.
The couple lived there for three years.
Travel was important for the Wingates. After moving to Nashville from Puerto Rico in 1936, they enjoyed many trips.
“She got to go to the Virgin Islands, went through the Panama Canal. They did a lot of things down in that area… She had a lot of experiences that most people in the U.S. had not had at that time. They went down on a freighter, but they were the first-class cargo,” Carolyn said.
Since then, Mary Lynn has visited New England, every state in the south, the west and even Alaska.
Carolyn, who lives in Memphis, and her brother, Jim, from Atlanta, grew up in Nashville. For a short four-year period when they were in high school, Mary Lynn and James moved their family to Missouri before returning to Nashville.
“She’s a Nashvillian and loved Nashville,” Carolyn said. “When I was in high school, we did move to Missouri, but that was just for four years, so we claim Nashville as home.”
In 1960, the family moved to Jackson where they bought a house near Meadowbrook. Mary Lynn still lives there today.
Mary Lynn taught a Bible class at First Baptist Church for years. She was also president of the Women’s Auxiliary of Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association and a member of the Heritage Luncheon Club.
“She’s always had responsibility. She’s always been in leadership,” Carolyn said.
At 93, Mary Lynn voluntarily stopped driving and gave her car to one of her grandchildren. That same year, she took her last vacation to Alaska. While there she flew in a two-seater plane.
At 100, she got her ears pierced, because it wasn’t in style when she was growing up. After going to a plastic surgeon, who performed the procedure as a birthday present, Mary Lynn received her first pair of diamond earrings.
“That’s the kind of spirit she has,” Carolyn said. “Most people at 100 would not have her ears pierced.”
Mary Lynn continues to be positive about life.
“There are some good genes in the family, but also, the things you don’t want to hear, she ate fresh food, vegetables. She would work in the yard. She would perspire, come in and eat vegetables, take a short nap, go back out and work some more. She just worked. As for sleeping, she was one of those early-to-bed, early-to-risers.”
Carolyn also said that her mother has always had a positive outlook on life.
“She always looked forward to things, she was always planning. To this day, we talk about a trip she’d like to take.”
And because Mary Lynn and her husband both lived through the great depression, they never splurged too much.
As an example, when the couple moved to Jackson, Mary Lynn re-wallpapered and painted her home, all by herself.
“She sewed, made a lot of my clothes. Everybody glowed about her yard. Same way with her house, just meticulous. And as a hostess, she entertained elegantly. She has always been the southern lady. She was strict and taught us well, but we had fun at the same time.”
Of all the things Mary Lynn has seen change since she was a young girl, the most significant to her has been the telephone.
“Back in the day, you were tied to the wall, to a cord. Now, you’re not tied anywhere,” Carolyn said. “Back in the day, they had party lines. If you wanted to be nosy, you would eavesdrop on the party line. Now, it’s come full circle. Today, everybody knows everybody’s business.”
Mary Lynn also noted that, in comparison to when she was growing up, everything is less formal.
“She’s noted it in clothing and homestyle. Everything has just gone more informal,” Carolyn said. “No one would go out without their hats and gloves. It was just a dress-up kind of time… People don’t tend to have as much etiquette, manners, training. That was very important back in the day. Now, it’s a little less so.”
Changes in medicine are also a big factor in Mary Lynn’s life. People are living longer.
“I’m the perfect example of that,” she said.
“The biggest thing in her life has been her home and family,” Carolyn said. “She had a loving family and a happy home and (loved) all the things involved in making it that way.”
Now, along with her two children, Mary Lynn has four grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
“She’s always been pretty, but pretty is as pretty does,” Carolyn said. “Her temperament is just so sweet and kind to people. People just love her, because she’s always very easy to talk to… Just that kind of personality.”