Dressed in fine yellow attire, Beatrice Wheeler Hailey, known affectionately as “Ma Bea,” sat on the edge of Black Drive in Gainesville Tuesday evening, watching as dozens of family and friends drove by to wish her a happy 101st birthday.
Hall County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Hall County Fire Services firefighters blared their sirens and turned on their flashing lights as they led the parade.
“This is just so awesome,” Hailey’s daughter Belinda Dickey said, watching the last vehicles pass by. “This is just a testament of the life she’s lived of loving and caring. She cried at first, and I got tears in my eyes too.”
Dickey said because of the pandemic, Hailey’s family opted for a birthday parade instead of a large indoor gathering.
“We saw how other people have done parades,” she said. “It’s just a good thing to do. She (Hailey) loves to wave.”
People leaned out car windows to say “happy birthday” and held decorated posters to show their fondness of the centenarian. Others came out of their homes to sing and congratulate the “mother of the neighborhood.”
When asked what she thought of the spectacle, Hailey smiled and replied, “good, good.”
Ariel Collins, who lives near Hailey, said she has known the lady for as long as she can remember.
“We call her Ma Bea,” Collins said. “She’s a legacy and what you want to grow to be — a matriarch.”
Amena Randolph chimed in, noting how many consider Hailey a leader in both the community and local churches, including St. John Baptist and Trinity Christian Methodist Episcopal.
“She helped raise all of us on this street,” Randolph said. “Everybody respects her. She taught me to pray first, and everything else will be all right.”
Although he couldn’t make it out to see Hailey on Tuesday, Hall Commissioner Jeff Stowe helped coordinate the parade with the 101-year-old's daughter, Gloria Evans.
“We’ve got a sheriff and a fire chief that are very understanding and community-oriented,” Stowe said. “She’s a great lady, and it’s amazing that she’s still got her wits about her and is agile and mobile at 101 years old. It’s just great.”
Five generations of Hailey’s family participated in the birthday celebration. Dickey said her mother raised seven children and many grandchildren.
“She taught me how to be a caregiver to family and friends, and she taught me the importance of loving God,” Dickey said. “It’s just so overwhelming the love she has given over the years.”