She never married nor birthed biological children, but the late 109-year-old Emma Bacon was a matriarch in her own regard.
Bacon, a former school teacher at Booker T. Washington Elementary, died Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, after outliving her parents and siblings and after beating COVID-19 earlier this year, according to her second cousin Francene Gilmer.
“She actually survived COVID,” Gilmer said Wednesday. “She had it and overcame it.”
Gilmer — whose 92-year-old mother is now the oldest living in their family — said they hadn’t seen Bacon since the beginning of the pandemic due to visitor restrictions at long-term care centers.
“I was told she passed away peacefully singing a tune,” Gilmer said, noting that some of her favorite gospel hymns were “If It Had Not Been for the Lord on My Side,” “Sweet Hour of Prayer” and “Jesus Loves Me.”
Before moving into Covington Convalescent Center, Bacon played piano for the children’s choir for many years at Virginia Street Baptist Church where she was the oldest member. Head pastor The Rev. M.O. Fort will give the eulogy at her funeral Friday.
Services will be at 11 a.m. at Gamble Funeral Home. Visitation will be from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Friday. Burial will be in Cave Spring Cemetery.
Vicky Bailey, also her second cousin, said although many people can’t attend the funeral, the outpour of memories from Bacon’s former students is comforting.
Former students have shared their memories of Bacon on social media and reached out to the family members who looked after her in her latter years.
“Everyone that’s calling she either taught them or their family members were taught by her,” Bailey said. “That shows how impactful she was. We didn’t realize the powerful impact she had on people.”
Gilmer said Bacon was “stern and firm” with her students at Booker T. and expected nothing less than success for them.
One former student, The Rev. Dr. Teresa Snorton, shared with the New Era how Bacon challenged her to be a lifelong learner.
“I would finish my work early and she was very creative in helping me reach for more,” said Snorton, who had Bacon as a teacher in second grade. “She would give me additional tasks or encourage me to go read a book even above my grade level. I think it was her encouragement that nurtured my thirst for learning.”
Snorton is now presiding bishop of the Fifth Episcopal District of the CME Church, which includes nearly 200 churches in the states of Alabama and Florida.
Additionally, Snorton was the executive director of the national Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, and former executive director of the Emory Center for Pastoral Services in Atlanta, where she taught theology at Emory University for 30 years.
Snorton said the last time she saw Bacon was around her 95th birthday.
“She told me how proud of me she was, and I turned into that little 7-year-old girl again who was proud of their teacher being proud of them,” Snorton said. “She was a tremendous teacher, educator and supporter. She exuded this heir of postivity.”
In her latter years, church members and extended family made sure to celebrate each birthday Bacon made past 100.
When asked on her 106th birthday about her secret to long life, Bacon told the New Era it was because she never married.
“I’m happy with what I’ve done,” she said in 2017.
Gilmer called her a local legend.
“She is a legendary figure,” she said. “I see people mourning Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and while Emma wasn’t a national figure, we can say she had a lot of influence over a lot of people. I’m just thankful we got to have her here with us for so long.”