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Epilogue | Mae Alice Frison

'Mama Frison' filled her life with love for kids, the Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — Mae Alice Frison, with her spunk and sunny outlook, predicted good things for 2008.

It was a big year for her. She was turning 100. Her brain was sharp as scissors, but she started playing Sudoku anyway to keep things fresh upstairs. She never missed a chance to watch the Tampa Bay Rays. She banged a cowbell for B.J. Upton and Edwin Jackson, her favorite boys.

Everyone figured she'd have a good year. When she asserted that the Rays would have their best season, however, that was harder to swallow.

But she knew.

• • •

She was born in the Georgia countryside in 1908. She didn't even have a birth certificate.

Her grandmother, who had been a slave as a young girl, took care of little Mae Alice, treating her illnesses with herbal remedies. She went to school in a one room schoolhouse and toted a lunch bucket. Her uncles made moonshine in a backyard shed.

As a young woman, she moved to Jacksonville and met her husband, John Frison, a minister. His preaching career took them to Winter Haven, then Bartow. She stayed smart, voting in every election since Dwight Eisenhower.

Mrs. Frison had a natural grace with kids. She legally adopted several children and took countless others under her wing. In Bartow, she ran Jack and Jill Day Care for 15 years.

"That became her passion," said her nephew, Abdul Karim Ali. "She just devoted the rest of her adult life to giving herself to raising children."

After her husband died, she moved to St. Petersburg. She lived independently, but never lacked for visitors. Everyone called her "Mama Frison."

When Meals on Wheels volunteers came to her home in Greenview Manor, she welcomed them in with a big "Come on in, baby! Sit down!"

Mary Jo Swiggett, a St. Petersburg nurse, adjusted her weekly volunteer route to make Mama Frison her last stop of the day.

"She was telling me these really neat stories," said Swiggett. "She remembered everything from the time she was 3 years old. She said she was never lonesome because she had so many happy memories to keep her company."

Employees from the Rays also delivered meals to Mrs. Frison, and she chatted with them about baseball. At first, it confused her. With three players on base and another at the plate, she'd ask, "If he hits the ball, too, where is he supposed to stand?"

"She just had such a sweet personality," said Wes Engram, the Rays director of corporate partnerships. "She would send us letters every few months saying how she's cheering for her boys."

When she turned 100 in March, the Rays gave her an official jersey with her name on the back. And earlier, they had treated her with tickets to a game.

That day, she sat in the stands, legs draped in a blanket. She waved her Bible wildly, screaming. The Rays were projected to lose that day.

But they won.

• • •

Mrs. Frison fell in her apartment recently, landing in the hospital.

Thursday night in the intensive care unit, she wanted to watch her team. The match notoriously turned sour for the Rays, the Boston Red Sox surging from miles behind to win.

A nurse brought in a television. Mrs. Frison watched until she got sleepy. The Rays still had a strong lead. The nurse offered to wake her later and tell her the outcome.

But she knew.

With her boys winning, Mrs. Frison went to sleep and never woke up.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

>>Biography

Mae Alice Frison

Born: March 24, 1908.

Died: Oct. 17, 2008.

'Mama Frison' filled her life with love for kids, the Rays 10/18/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 23, 2008 6:07pm]
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