Mazie W. Johnson and Gladys Covin
Soul sisters: 103-year-old Mazie W. Johnson and 101-year-old Gladys Covin from Beacon
Photograph by Jennifer May
Sisters Mazie W. Johnson, 103 (left), and Gladys Covin, 101, have been right by each other’s side for most of their long lives. Two of 14 children raised on a farm in Jenkinsville, South Carolina, they recall doing everything together, from going to school to fetching well water for their oversized family to attending the historically black Allen University in Columbia, S.C. “The people would all laugh and yell ‘Hey, here come the people from the country,’ ” says Johnson. “But I wasn’t thinking about them; I was there to get an education.” Johnson moved to Beacon in 1936 to be with her future husband Henry, but when she met a “handsome young man” at church, she sent for her sister. Her matchmaking skills were right on: Covin soon married him, and the two couples proceeded to live in Beacon within blocks of each other for many years. “The black people all lived on one side of the street,” says Johnson. While both of their husbands worked at the Veterans Hospital at Castle Point, the sisters took jobs as chambermaids at the now-defunct Holland Hotel. “Gladys worked on the second floor and I worked on the third,” says Johnson. “They would leave tips where Gladys worked, but not so many on my floor.” While they maintain their friendly lifelong rivalry — both sisters claim that the other one liked to stay in bed when there was work to be done — the duo, who currently live next door to each other, often finish each other’s sentences and even hold hands while chatting.
While good genes clearly run in this family — two of their other sisters are still going strong at 95 and 98 — Covin is philosophical when it comes to the reasons for their longevity. “If you do the right thing and trust in God, and leave it in his hands, he will see that you get a long life,” she says. A whole lot of togetherness hasn’t seemed to hurt either. “We would cook together, work together, go to church together, eat together,” says Covin with a laugh. “It’s been nice.”