Tacoma woman celebrates 102 years of helping others

Staff writerMarch 23, 2014 

The oldest member of the church that considers itself Tacoma’s oldest African-American congregation celebrated her 102nd birthday a few days early on Sunday.

And while Florence Motley has thoughts to share about the ingredients for a long and happy life, don’t ask for the secret to her famous corn bread or sugar cookies.

“I don’t tell that,” she said with a smile at her party at Tacoma’s Allen A.M.E. Church.

Her advice for a fulfilling life centers on helping and treating others well.

“Know right from wrong, serve your fellow man with kindness, and keep your body clean,” she said. “And keep yourself from a lot of the stuff that we see going on in the world today. We had more respect for each other, and more dignity than what we have today. They seem to be more interested in themselves than in one another.”

Motley was born March 28, 1912, in Selmer, Tenn., and moved to Tacoma in 1969 to spend time with her three granddaughters, she said. Her son served in the military and eventually worked as a dentist in Tacoma.

“Grandma wanted to come take care of the babies,” Motley said.

Granddaughter Sharon Kinnard visited from California for the party. She said Motley was the sweet woman who greeted her grandchildren with a smile every time they came home and talked with them about their day.

“She was always volunteering,” Kinnard said. 

Motley worked with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Helen B. Stafford Study Club, The Colored Women’s Clubs and other social and civic groups. She also held various roles at the church.

Motley was a strict disciplinarian, Kinnard said, admitting she had some mischievous grandchildren.

And Motley appears to be just a bit mischievous herself. Her granddaughter said Motley drove the family’s 1960s Mustang too fast. And once, in Las Vegas, Kinnard saw her waiting at a slot machine. When she was told she hadn’t won with the several coins she put in, Motley decided she’d had enough of gambling.

“She packed up her nickels and left,” Kinnard said with a laugh.

Asked by The News Tribune what she’d seen change through the years, Motley joked: “When they said pot, we thought it was something to cook in.”

More seriously, she described her role in Tacoma’s civil rights movement, briefly, as such: “You win peace by giving love instead of hate. And that’s what we tried to do. We tried to let people know we loved them instead of hating them. Tried to get them to do right. And I enjoyed that.”

She thinks the approach resulted in progress.

“Some of them listened very attentively, and I think it helped,” Motley said. “The young fellas, they found out that what they were doing was not right. Some have changed, and of course some didn’t.”

Motley said she believes helping people is her calling.

“The most important thing to me is getting along with your fellow man, and trying to live peaceful in this world,” she said. “That’s what I pray for, and that’s what I worked for.”

Motley says it’s been a good 102 years to celebrate.

“I’m outgoing,” she said.  “I like to talk to people, and they don’t seem to mind listening to me. So I’ve been very happy. … When you have comfort, love and peace, what more can we ask for?”

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268



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