She’s also lived through many wars, technological advancements and cultural trends. But when she looks back on her life, those aren’t the things that stand out in her mind. Rather, it’s the memories from her small-town upbringing, her teaching career and the bonds shared with family that she treasures most.
“I never thought of it as a long life,” Williamson said. “I just enjoyed every minute, and I knew I had things to look forward to, and that was what I enjoyed.”
Williamson was born Jan. 15, 1914, in Fairmount, Illinois. She has many fond memories of her time at Fairmount High School, where she played basketball and starred in school plays.
From there, she attended what was then called Eastern Illinois Normal School for Teachers and graduated with a two-year degree in elementary education, which was all that was needed to become a teacher at that time. Her first teaching job was in a rural, one-room schoolhouse in Illinois, where she had not only to teach the students, but also to prepare meals for them.
“I enjoyed it because when I went in in the morning, I’d just put a big pot on the stove and have vegetable soup or potato soup,” Williamson said, “and they liked things like that.”
After marrying her husband, Paul, whom she met at a movie screening, she began substitute teaching at schools in various states, as her husband’s career required them to travel frequently. The couple had three children — Gordon, Gloria and Gene — and Williamson began devoting much of her time to her family, as was common for women at that time.
Over the years, Williamson lived in at least 16 different locations due to her husband’s job. While some might have preferred more stability, Williamson said she enjoyed the experience, and they often went on trips for fun, outside her husband’s work.
“We just liked to travel,” Williamson said, “and I was glad that my husband liked to. He liked to hunt and fish, and I always went tagging along.”
Williamson recalls one moment from her teaching career that she believes few other teachers have ever experienced.
“In my second school where I taught, the children had pets, and one of them had a pet pig and wanted to know if he could bring it to school,” Williamson said. “I said, ‘You can bring it to school, but you’ll have to take care of it and see that it doesn’t disturb any of the others, because they’re going to be anxious to pet it.’
“When he brought it, he wanted to know if I would ride it. I said, ‘If you’ll trust me with the pig, I guess I’ll have to say yes.’ So we went out on the school ground and took a little survey of where we would go, and he helped me get on the pig and I rode the pig.”
When it comes to politics, Williamson remembers seeing President Dwight Eisenhower on one of his campaign stops. Another highlight in her life came in the 1950s, when she won a new washing machine — a rare item at that time — on a televised game show.
Throughout most her life, Williamson was active and enjoyed the outdoors. Up until she was 101 or 102, she was still going on camping trips with her family with no trouble, she said.
Williamson moved to Kingsport eight years ago to be close to her daughter and granddaughter. She stayed with her daughter for a few years before moving to Wexford House, where she currently lives.
In addition to her three children, Williamson has six grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. Though some of them live in different states, Williamson cherishes her time with them and considers herself lucky to have a caring family to take care of her.
“My children have been very good to me,” Williamson said, “and I think that’s part of my long life.”