Perched on a metal chair outside St. John Fire Baptized Holiness Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant on a cool Friday morning, giving out church pamphlets to passers-by, was the lady known as Mama Beatrice Mobley—a lively, adorable, and beloved Brooklyn treasure.
“I came to New York when I was 19 years old, and I’ve been here for 79 years, and I’m a member here. Please, come and join our services.”
The 96-year-old Savannah, Georgia transplant is a former nurse and one of the oldest surviving employees of the old Brooklyn Navy Yard Hospital.
“I worked in the Navy Yard—there was a hospital there. I worked during the wartime—before you were born. I was a cook for the Navy boys. My picture’s there now. You can look me up.”
Married at 15, Mobley left the rural climes of Savannah, aged 19, leaving her husband and her 2-year-old son James with her family there. She came to Brooklyn, New York in 1945 and became a cook at the then-still segregated Brooklyn Navy Yard Hospital.
Speaking proudly of her long and storied history, Mobley is treated like a superstar as she steps into the Widdi family-owned Key Food supermarket on 991 Fulton Street. As cries of “Mama’s here,” ring out in happy unison, excited workers leave their posts to hug the delighted elder. Co-owner Ibrahim Widdi embraces the local legend, and it is all smiles. “This is Mama,” he told this Amsterdam News reporter. “She comes here every week to do her shopping. Everyone loves her.”
Some of her memories have been recorded by the Brooklyn Historical Society in their Brooklyn Navy Yard Oral History Project, a part of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center, dedicated to the women who worked in essential labor positions during the Second World War.
“These women paved the way for all of us in skilled professional fields today, and their oral histories are important records of personal experience that will be preserved to inspire future generations of innovative young women,” said Daniella Romano, vice president of BLDG 92 Exhibits and Programs-Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp, on Brooklynink.org.
Utilizing her magnificent Southern-style cooking, she left her Bedford-Stuyvesant apartment early in the morning to get to her 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift at the Navy Yard feeding the hundreds of people who came off of those ships to eat in the big cafeteria.
She actually went back to Georgia after a year at the Navy Yard, and went to Florida to work, but that Brooklyn energy called her back in 1948 and she returned with James.
Since then, she has lived in Farragut public houses, and is known for her work ethic and lovely personality. She has become incredibly popular with community members and her church family.
“I went to Florida for one year, I went to get my baby—he was 2 years old, and now he’ll be 80 years old next year in March, how’d you like that! I have 5 generations: my son, his daughter, her son, his daughter.
“I have 7 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren—from one son, James. They visit me, but they live in Washington and Maryland.”
But not only did Mobley leave a great impact at Brooklyn’s Navy Yard, but for the better part of four decades she also worked as a cook for the New York City Department of Education; she said that she had to retire in 2010, because of a heart condition.
“I retired from the Board of Education after I worked for the city for 37 years.”
Her job there was “Cooking and taking care of the children for over 37 years in the public school…PS11, PS9, PS42, PS 287.” She can literally bump into any one of the hundreds of children she took care of any time of the day. “And I’m doing fine, fine, fine…and I love the lord. I don’t want to do nothing to displease God, because he’s been good to me for 96 years.”
Her advice for looking so beautiful, healthy, and fit after 96 years is, she says, “Living right and doing the right thing.
“I pray, eat and I go to sleep. I am blessed. That’s all,” she replied. “I never drank, never smoked, never partied.”
Tongue-in-cheek the Amsterdam News asked; “No boyfriend?”
“Boyfriend?” Eyes raised, mischievous grin, Mobley said, “My boyfriend is Jesus. And I’m happy, and I’m satisfied. Whatever may come, and whatever may go—I’m a stay with him until he calls me home. All I do is church, church, church. That’s all I want to do, I don’t want to do nothing else.”
Known once for being an avid driver with trips nationwide, it is now that Mobley says she is looking to sell her 1970 mint green Chevy Impala.
After filling bellies for over 70 years, the Amsterdam News asked the still incredibly active elder what’s her specialty, if her family comes around what is she cooking?
“Anything they want. Well, I like fish and steak. I don’t care too much for chicken. I like vegetables. And I like to sleep and pray. And I do my own sewing. I make my own clothes, with no pattern. I design my own clothes. I am very happy! Lord knows that I’m satisfied that I know the Lord.
“I’m 96 years old; four more years I will also be 100 years old. And I’m satisfied.”