Detroit First Lady's grandmother Ida Mae turns 100

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    A wise man once wrote that most people see problem of love primarily as that of being loved, rather than that of loving, or of one’s capacity to love.

    Ida Mae Lee, who celebrated her 100th birthday last Sunday, realizes that the secret to loving well is to relate to others with kindness and joy.

    Mrs. Lee is the grandmother of Detroit’s First Lady, Yvette Bing. She was honored Sunday at a celebration held at Ricky’s Ballroom in Detroit. And no one present celebrated as much the honoree.

    From the moment she arrived Mrs. Lee exuded happiness along with a spirit of faith, gratitude and determination. And as family and admirers gathered around her, she literally danced in her chair. When asked what was the key to her longevity she reiterated that it was love of and trust in God.

    The wife of the late Charles Lee (they married in January 1929 and he passed away in 1989 after 60 years of marriage), Mrs. Lee is the mother of ten children (three of whom she has outlived). She has 26 grandchildren, over a hundred great-grandchildren and scores of great- great-grandchildren.

    “I had a hard time but! Made it,” said Mrs. Lee. “I asked the Lord to let me see my children get grown and He’s done it and I thank Him. I taught Sunday school, I worked on the farm, I picked cotton in Alabama, and I’m still here. The good Lord blessed me to be a hundred years old.”

    Ida Mae Lee talks to her children every day and she lives only a short distance from her granddaughter. Yvette Bing.

    “She is a very positive influence in my life.” said Mrs. Bing. “My grandmother is a very spiritual person and I picked up some of that from her. And she’s very kind. She’s my grandmother but she’s like the whole neighborhood’s grandmother too. That’s the type of person she is. Of course, being 100 years old, she’s not as active as she used to be, but when she was younger she was very active in the community.”

    The elderly have always played a crucial part in stabilizing and strengthening our communities. Their wealth of knowledge and experience are priceless and provide a continuum and a connection that embraces, anchors and directs families and communities in truth and righteousness. And it reminds us to trust in the benevolent power of an all powerful, all knowing Creator.

    Mothers and grandmothers (and yes) great-grandmothers have traditionally been the stewards of guidance and the vessels of love and understanding in homes and communities throughout the world, and especially in Black communities in America. “Honor your parents” is the advice Ida Mae Lee gave when asked about maintaining a long and prosperous life. And we are in serious trouble when we forget this, or when we remember yet neglect to cherish our parents and our elderly as we should.

    “I want to thank all my children,” said Mrs. Lee. “And to tell them to be good boys and girls. To my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren and to my friends, always remember to take the good Lord along with you wherever you go and He will work it out. Trust in the Lord and be of good faith and do good works.”

    Eugene Lee is her next to youngest child. He says that his mother always instructed him to tell the truth no matter what the consequences, and to keep his word once it is given.

    “My mother is a God-fearing person,” concurred her youngest son, Ernest Lee. “We didn’t have a whole lot of material things, but she told us to always help others if we could. She would share whatever we had and people from all over the neighborhood came to our house and they were always welcome. They could come in and eat and even sleep or stay there if they needed to. And she told me that when you give, make sure it’s from your heart and the Lord will bless you.”

    Such simple, yet effective counseling strikes a chord with most people. And it does so because their very souls are witnesses to its truth. No. we don’t need armies of sociologists and psychologists to complicate matters with theories that don’t work or that make our world even worse. The solutions and remedies to our problems and tribulations are to be found, says Ida Mae Lee, in the treasure of the goodness of the human heart.

    Steven Malik Shelton is a journalist and human rights advocate. He can be reached at


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