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Obama brought the world to grandmother's door

I made sure to call my grandmother Wednesday before 11 a.m., because she watches The Price Is Right at 11, and no one can interfere with that. Luckily, I got her on the telephone before the show and before the television crew from India came by her Atlanta home. Crews from Britain, Japan and the NBC Nightly News also planned to pay a visit.

This is what happens when the personal story of a 106-year-old woman becomes interwoven with one of our nation's most historic moments. Yes, Barack Obama chose to include the remarkable story of my grandmother, Ann Nixon Cooper, in his victory speech Tuesday night.

"This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations," Obama told the 200,000 supporters at Chicago's Grant Park. "But one that's on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She's a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing. Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old."

Obama proceeded to build a historic time line around her life. He eloquently captured what I've known for so long but perhaps took for granted: My grandmother has witnessed an incredible transformation. She has seen this country go from a place that denied equality to blacks and women to a nation willing to place its trust in an African-American man by electing him to the highest office in the land.

As she watched the speech, well past her normal bedtime, she sipped wine and nibbled on Pepperidge Farm cookies. She couldn't help but take pride in knowing her vote helped put Obama in the White House.

"I thought it was just great," Grandmama said just before she settled into her chair Wednesday morning to watch Drew Carey greet his contestants.

She sounded bubbly, but I get the impression she's taking this newfound recognition in stride.

The genesis of this story starts with the fact she defied a number of health challenges — including two heart attacks — to make it to the polls. When she voted last month, television crews greeted her. You know, it's a big deal when a 106-year-old socialite arrives to cast her ballot.

Eventually, CNN anchor Don Lemon visited Grandmama at her home and produced a heartwarming profile. He brought her flowers and asked if he could be her date at the inauguration. It's a prophetic request given that campaign officials have spoken to her about being in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20.

About a week after the story aired, she received a telephone call from Obama. Of course, she was out riding with friends and missed the call.

Obama did leave a long message on her answering machine. CNN came out and documented that call. However, it wasn't until Tuesday night that she received a second call from the campaign saying she would be mentioned in the acceptance speech. Word quickly spread among me and her other 14 grandchildren.

I wasn't sure what constitutes a mention, and 14 minutes through the speech, I began to think he had decided to go in another direction. Then came the moment: The world's newest leader was talking about my dearest relative.

"So tonight, let us ask ourselves," Obama said. "If our children should live to see the next century, if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

"This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment."

My moment actually came about six hours later. I woke up my three kids and showed them a replay of the speech on the Internet. To see the gleam in their eyes when they heard their great-grandmother's name was like watching them tear open a gift on Christmas. A gift from my grandmother and Barack Obama.

Ann Nixon Cooper's legacy lives in their hearts. She persevered through good times and bad — from hosting the Nat King Cole trio at her home to enduring racial slurs from an Atlanta streetcar driver — so all her offspring could relish a better life.

Thanks Grandmama. And thanks, Mr. President-elect.

"This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that's on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She's a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing. Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old."

President-elect Barack Obama, Tuesday night in Chicago

On the Web

To read previous Ernest Hooper columns about his grandmother and Barack Obama, go to politics.tampabay.com.

On the Web

To read previous Ernest Hooper columns about his grandmother and Barack Obama, go to politics.tampabay.com.

Obama brought the world to grandmother's door 11/05/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 11, 2008 2:23pm]
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