For many of us, it’s tough to even remember what we had for dinner last night, but at 101 years old, Ms. Clara Bridges can tell you the phone numbers and birthdays of her nieces and nephews-- by heart! (Try that without your cellphone or e-calendar!) While most of us are struggling to pull together our post-quarantine health routines, you can probably find “Mama Bridges,” as she’s fondly known, in the fitness center on an exercise bike, or finishing up a crafting activity in the community commons. If you ask anyone who has crossed Mama Bridges’ path during her time there, they’ll likely describe a kind, caring, and quick-witted centenarian that doesn’t miss a beat and never met a stranger. She celebrated her 101st birthday on March 24th, 2022.
“She has been that way my entire life,” says her niece, Ms. Carmelitia Harris-Pierce. “I think because she grew up in a spiritual home, that’s just who she is,” Harris-Pierce says of Bridges.
Mama Bridges came from a religious family. Her father was a Methodist minister, and her great uncle John Bridges was a founder of Warren United Methodist Church, which started in his home in the Bush Mountain Community (now known as the West End) just after the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. In 1966, she was inspired to embrace Judaism after a life changing conversation with her mother, who was Ethiopian, in the final days of her life. In an act of love she describes as a “return to Judaism,” she joined The Temple in Midtown Atlanta, one of American Judaism’s most historic religious institutions. Mama Bridges has been a faithful member of The Temple ever since, even enjoying a birthday service and receiving her birthday blessing from the Rabbi as she celebrated her special milestone.
At the tender age of 7 years old, Mama Bridges knew she wanted to become a nurse after dreamily listening to a woman at her church talk about her work travels. After graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, she completed nursing programs at Clark College and Grady Hospital, then enlisted in the U. S. Army—all by the age of 24. Just before the end of World War II, Mama Bridges served for two honorable wartime years at four military installations. Her military service took her all over the country, from Fort McCoy in Wisconsin where she cared for German POWs, to Fort McPherson right here in Atlanta.
After 33 years of service in a nursing career that spanned from orthopedics to pediatrics with a specialty and newborns and preemies, Ms. Bridges retired to Peachtree Senior Tower in 1976, becoming the first Black resident. Though she officially hung up her stethoscope as a nurse caregiver, she is still driven by purpose to pour care and love into others. “She would always care for all [of the] babies as a nurse. All us of [were] perfectly healthy children. Even those who had life-threatening illnesses, like polio or asthma, she nursed us all to perfect health,” said Harris-Pierce. Her legacy as a nurse to her family and to the community is evident. Until about 20 years ago, Mama Bridges also served as a nurse volunteer at the Peachtree Road Race, which ran its route by Peachtree Senior Tower, assisting those who were experiencing injuries from falls and heat exhaustion.
Though the pandemic and other circumstances have limited her activities just a bit, she still enjoys an active retirement at Peachtree Senior Tower. Coupled with her loving and positive nature, Mama Bridges’ keys to longevity seem rooted in staying active and health conscious throughout her life.
From growing up and completing her education right here in Atlanta, serving her country during wartime, to returning to her community and giving a lifetime of service and care, Mama Bridges has more than paid her dues. It is an honor to return full-circle the same love, care, and compassion to Mama Bridges as one of our treasured residents.
When asked about her time at Peachtree Senior Tower, Mama Bridges shared:
"I love it here. It's been a home, a community, and a family. I’ve seen so many people—all the people have come [to this community]. And they have tried to give our community the best.…tell Atlanta Housing there is no other!”
And for the AH community, there is no other like Mama Bridges. Watch highlights from Mama Bridges' birthday celebration here.