Celebrating 95 Years of Faith, Family and Love

Pulling off a 95th surprise birthday celebration for Flossie Manns Brown during Covid-19 took support from many people – near and far, great weather and hush hush talk behind the scenes. Part of her celebration was to surprise her with 95 birthday cards. When Deacon Joe Sheffey announced it at church, Rev. Richard Goodman, Pastor of First Missionary Baptist, where Flossie is the Mother of the Church, made the suggestion to take it a step further and include a drive by birthday parade.   Deacon Joe,  who is married to Flossie’s niece, Jeanette,  talked with Flossie’s family who were all delighted with the idea, and then he  worked tirelessly with community effort and support, to get the celebration off without a hitch!  Pulaski County Sheriff, Mike Worrell, and Chief Randy Mills of the Fairlawn Volunteer Fire Department unhesitantly agreed to participate. The local rescue squad planned to participate but duty called and they were unable to be there.

Flossie Manns Brown was born on August 30, 1925. She was the second of ten children born to James and Hattie Manns. She loves to tell the story of it being all girls – Elizabeth, Flossie, Christine, Nenzerine, and then came a baby brother, James, who was followed by Charles, Lillian, Betty, Andrew, and John.

After graduating from Christiansburg Institute, Flossie moved to Washington, DC where she married and worked for three years at the Pentagon. After her husband died unexpectedly, she returned home to New River.  She later married James “Ran” Brown, himself one of ten boys, and they raised seven children —  Patricia, Tony, Tampra, Phillip,  Vanessa, Bernita, and. Montie.  Ran died in 2006 after more than 50 years of marriage. Flossie has four living children – Patricia Thompson of Wilmington, NC, Phillip Brown and his wife Anne of New River, Bernita Gilliam of Somerset, NJ and who is now at home staying with her mother, and Rev. Montie Brown (Carolyn) of Dublin. She has 19 grandchildren, 40 great grandchildren, and 12 great great grandchildren.

Always a person who did what she had to do, Flossie (against her husband’s wishes) got her driver’s license so she could pick up her high school daughter at Christiansburg Institute after evening activities were over. Then, there was no I-81, so she made the trip down and up the mountain. That license and driving experience would come in handy some years later when her daughters were sick in Greensboro, NC.  She would drop what she was doing to drive to  Greensboro to be there for her daughters and to take care of the grandchildren.  There was no I-77, so once again, she’d take a mountainous route to get there, and her grandkids said they never worried- they knew she’d be there for them. Grownups now, they often speak of those times and what it meant to them. Now, they often drive to Virginia to look after her.

After her retirement from Corning Glass, Flossie often spent time providing transportation for the elderly in New River taking them grocery shopping, doctor appointments, or whatever was needed. Flossie reluctantly gave up driving a couple of years ago.

Flossie always found time to be involved in her children’s lives and activities She was an active member of the PTA, and worked with the Girl Scouts, among other other things. She encouraged her children and was always their number one supporter.

One of her greatest pleasures was being a member of the Twin City Garden Club – a club for

African American women, who had an interest in flowers and plants. They would meet monthly at different homes and the women could show off their cooking skills with delicious desserts, and of course, they would discuss flowers. Flossie emphasized it wasn’t just a club but they always supported local community efforts and it gave the women of the various communities an opportunity to get together. Her love of flowers and plants has lasted and she still looks forward to beautiful flowers and plants. She can’t work her flower beds the way she did in the past, but they still bring her great joy.

Flossie’s faith is an important part of her life.  Flossie has been an active member of First Missionary Baptist Church since she was a child. Her father took them to Sunday School and

church as soon as they were walking. She now serves as Mother of the Church,

an honor she appreciates and does everything she can to show how proud she is to have that title.  She has continued to be active in her church and attended Sunday School and church every Sunday until Covid-19. She looked forward to her Sunday job of folding the church bulletins, and her seat in her regular pew where she sat with her long time friend, Mrs. Audrey Lee,  Her church has reopened but at the insistence of her children, she has not returned to church yet, but listens in every Sunday. She has served on the Usher Board, is a member of the Missionary Ministry, member of the Virginia Baptist Association and attended the Virginia State Bible Conventions for thirty years.

First Baptist of Fincastle is another church Flossie is proud to claim as her own. Her son, Rev. Montie Brown, is pastor there, and the church has adopted Flossie as well. She has her special pew there and she is there for all of their special occasions and celebrations.  She is loved by the congregation and they are loved by her.

Rheumatoid arthritis in one leg has caused her to slow down,  but she still insists on staying active as much as possible. She walked at Bissett Park daily for over 40 years, where she walked with old friends and made new ones. She credits that to helping her stay on her feet as long as she has.

Traveling with her sisters, Elizabeth and Nenzerine, was always fun for the three of them.  They traveled to Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Michigan, Alabama and other places with fellow senior citizens.  She has also been to Disney World, California, New York and everywhere her children or grandchildren made their homes. For several years, she was part of an annual trip to Myrtle Beach with her daughters and their children.

Reading is a passion of hers and Flossie was a regular patron of the Radford Public Library for over 30 years. Today she reads at least two books a week, does word puzzles, and is 100% on top of her financials!  Her mornings start with exercise in bed,  breakfast with Kelly and Ryan, lunch with her favorite “stories” and dinner watching the evening news.  She enjoys talking on the phone with friends and speaks everyday with her former daughter in law, Ellen, who calls to check on her every morning. She speaks with daughter-in-law Anne in the afternoons, and daughter-in-law Carolyn in the evenings!  She has 3 siblings still living, Charles (Caroline), John ., who still lives in the family home, and Ava Pope who lives in ‘Greensboro.  She calls to check on her brothers often – even though they live

about five minutes away, and she has taken on the role as second mother to her many nieces and nephews. Her “farmer” nephews often drop off fresh vegetables during the summer months.

Family dinners with Flossie and her children usually mean 50 people or more. The last big family dinner was last Christmas.  She is looking forward to when the entire family can be together again, but for now, she just wants everyone to stay safe.

Keeping track of birthdays is not easy, but she does so and in this age of email, her grandkids, and great grandkids have said that when they were away at college,  sometimes they felt a need to check their campus mailboxes where they’d find a card with a wonderful message and a check from their Ta-Ta, as she is affectionately known.. It didn’t have to be a  special occasion but just because she was thinking of them. Strangely, the message on the card always related to something going on in their lives at the time. She is still the same today.

Flossie, who loves cards herself, was the recipient of more than  170 birthday cards, and 160 plus messages on Facebook. She took time and read every card and she is soon going to read her birthday message on Facebook.

The morning of her birthday driveby as she was getting ready to sit at her viewing station, she wanted to know, Is all of this for me? Balloons were hung, the lawn decorated, and two brightly colored signs greeted drivers going off the hill and drivers coming up – Honk! It’s Flossie’s 95th Birthday! Car horns blasted throughout the day.

As the parade of cars drove by, Flossie was so happy to see her church family, many of whom she hadn’t seen in months and she would like to thank the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department’s  Deputy Dowdy who led the parade procession,   and the Fairlawn Volunteer Fire Chief Randy Mills who drove the firetruck and had New River’s own, Ralph Sheffey, Jr. riding with him for their participation, and the many members of our community and other communities who took time to make her 95th birthday special,.

At 95, Flossie still enjoys a good Sunday dinner, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, and phone conversations with friends and family.  Although she doesn’t have Facebook, she enjoys the pictures and posts shared by her daughter. Through Facebook, she has been able to see her great grandkids in their Covid-19 classrooms – at home and at school.  Her youngest great granddaughter loves to facetime with Ta-Ta! Flossie reads the newspaper everyday from front to back.  She doesn’t like to eat out, “sticks to her guns” on what she believes in and will listen to you but if it is something she doesn’t want to do, she is not going to do it or  will do it her way,  She loves going to get her hair done takes pride in looking good every day. She looks forward to seeing her boys and will perch herself on the back patio to corner my brother after he cuts the grass each week, She only has to call and they are there.  Her daughter.who is here from New Jersey to stay with her, had convinced her she doesn’t need the boys to change a light

bulb or to put gas in the car!  Phone calls from her daughter in Wilmington brighten her day and they spend time catching up on the latest news – family and community.

Although Covid-19 has limited Flossie’s activities, she still has her positive outlook on life and she can often be heard saying, “I can’t complain.”  She continues to always see and look for the best in everyone or every situation.  She doesn’t let others steal her joy.   In these times of `uncertainty and unrest, Flossie implores that we always, always love one another.

By BERNITA BROWN GILLIAM,  Special to The Patriot