Prescott’s Democratic honorary delegate urges all to vote in historic election (VIDEO)
PRESCOTT – At 102, Geraldine “Jerry” Emmett has gone from an Iowa farm girl to a national Democratic Party celebrity; she survived the Great Depression and her first job was teaching Native American children in a no-amenity reservation schoolhouse.
“I saw how mistreated and neglected those Navajos were, and it made me have a different look at the whole world and how much we needed to help those who were so sinned against,” said the 45-year retired educator who taught the Constitution to middle school students for more than three decades.
Emmett still can recall the shock of a presidential assassination and the murder of a civil rights leader; the awe of a man rocketing to the moon. She saw the advent of television, the microwave, and the Internet. One of her most vivid memories is of her hometown Gilbert cheering in the streets with the passage of the 19th Constitutional Amendment that gave women the right to vote.
“I voted the minute I could,” Emmett said of casting her very first presidential vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
To this day, Emmett said Roosevelt, and his wife, Eleanor – she claims her support of Hillary has much to do with her resemblance to the earlier First Lady – are her American idols.
Emmett and her family survived World War I and World War II – her husband Cecil was in the Navy for four years in the South Pacific after the bombing of Pearl Harbor – and she witnessed the true strength of women left behind to take care of their families, operate businesses and uphold a nation. She believed then, as she does today, that women need not stand on the political sidelines; they can and should be in the driver’s seat.
“My mother, Winnie Johnson, was the first woman I saw vote,” Emmett said.
She admits in her early days backing the Democratic Party she could not imagine America would nominate, or elect, a woman as the leader of the free world. She became more confident of the possibilities for minorities after America elected its first black president, Barack Obama, not once but twice.
“I was so glad,” said Emmett who met Obama for the first time at the convention when now Secretary of State John Kerry was the Democratic candidate. She remembers asking him for an autograph for one her granddaughters. Not only did he sign his name, but he penned a message: “Dream big Dreams.”
“Then he reached out and hugged me,” Emmett said with a broad smile.
A passionate patriot, the Northern Arizona University Hall of Fame member proved a Prescott ambassador when she appeared as the state Democratic Party’s honorary delegate at the Democratic National Convention, casting 51 delegate votes for Hillary Clinton at the first convention to nominate a woman as leader of the free world.
This, however, was “extraordinary” as it is likely her last and the most momentous, she said from a rocking chair in her home just days after her return from Philadelphia. Now legally blind, the mentally sharp political activist who keeps her curly white hair properly coiffed and makes time for regular manicures can still hold a healthy political debate with just about anyone.
Of the Republican presidential nominee, Emmett said if either of her sons had ever spoken about women, or any minorities she says he has offended, she would have “washed their mouths out with soap.”
In Emmett’s mobile home near Willow Lake, just across the street from her son, Jim, and his wife, Maggie, are poster-size photos of her two sons and their families: five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. In her bedroom is a quilt of family photos of her parents and ancestors.
A back bedroom is devoted to her Democratic political heroes, everyone from Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick to President Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Emmett’s first cousin, Dawn Knight, 15 years her junior, said the centenarian has long been her idol.
In her advanced years, Knight said her cousin has not lost an ounce of her energetic spirit; Emmett still walks around her neighborhood, hangs her American flag in his stand every day, and can hold up her end of any political conversation.
“She’s still going strong,” Knight said.
Even Republican Prescott Mayor Harry Oberg is a fan.
“We might not be of the same mind politically, but I appreciate that’s she done a lot to help Prescott,” Oberg said.
Asked about her plans for election night, Emmett winks. Wherever she might be – and at her age she suggests one cannot predict – she said she has confidence in the American people.
She just wants all who can to go to the polls.
“If you don’t vote, you’ve already lost,” Emmett concluded.