The Valdosta Daily Times
Marion “Coot” Bennett remembers the day she pressed clothes for a person so important, the clothes had to be checked out by the Secret Service before the person could wear them.
The door at Valdosta Dry Cleaners had been unlocked at 5:30 a.m. that day for the drycleaning and pressing of the clothes of Bill Clinton, who was running for the presidency and had come to town for a rally the previous night.
Bennett, who will be 75 this Sunday, has worked 45 years at Valdosta Dry Cleaners, the longest of any employee there.
“I don’t know of a day she has missed work,” said owner Paul Zipperer. “She’s here every morning at 6 o’clock waiting on us to open.
“I’ve worked with her 35 years, and you can ask her to do anything, and she will. She never questions anyone and does a great job.”
Zipperer noted the 20 prom dresses she had pressed one recent week, as well as all the wedding dresses she’s done in the past.
Her co-workers, whom she considers family, are likewise complimentary of “Ms. Coot.” She was given the nickname “Coot” as a young girl by one of her aunts.
“She’s very considerate of other people,” said co-worker Barbara Booth. “She’s always there to comfort you when you are down and would do anything for anybody.”
Booth said Ms. Coot is in church every Sunday and Wednesday at Mount Carmel House of God Saints in Christ. Throughout the 35 years of her membership, at some point, she has shared her talents on the Cooking Committee, as a member of the Senior Choir and Mother Board, and she was also the Sunday School secretary.
“She loves to talk about the Lord,” Booth said. “She has good morals and standards and lives by them every day.”
Cindy Massey, who has worked at Valdosta Dry Cleaners 28 years, described Miss Coot as “humble and loving.”
“She’s like family,” Massey said. “Ms. Coot is such a giving person; she’s always helping other people.”
“My grandmother is a phenomenal woman,” agreed granddaughter Bluedy Bennett. “I have seen her help so many people in various ways. Telling people ‘no’ when her help is requested is a rare thing for her. She welcomes everyone with open arms.
“Grandma Coot has always given me words of encouragement that will always stay with me. As children, my siblings, cousins and I spent many days getting spoiled over at our grandparents’ home. My grandmother taught us to always stick together as a family and getting an education is a priority. Those long talks are greatly appreciated and have contributed to me being the woman I am.
“I thank God for blessing us with such a wonderful and supportive woman in our life. She is the ‘glue’ of our family. I couldn’t have asked for a better grandmother.”
It was the late Ola Lanier, who worked at Valdosta Dry Cleaners, who brought Ms. Coot there to work when she was around 29 years old. She started in the laundry and, for the last 20 years, has been pressing ladies’ clothes. When asked if she ever got burned by the steam at the dry cleaners, she said years ago she did.
“Most everybody here gets a burn,” she said.
“I enjoy working with my co-workers at the cleaners because it is just like being around family. I am extremely thankful to have had such wonderful bosses. Anytime something came up, they never gave me a hassle about getting off, especially when my now deceased husband (Grady Bennett Sr.) unexpectedly had a stroke back in 1995. Paul (Zipperer) and Ike (Harrell Jr.) were very understanding of my situation and allowed me to miss work from time to time when I needed to stay home to take care of my husband up until his death in 2000. My daughter, Teresa (Bennett), and home nurses also played a significant role in me being able to continue working.”
During that time, Ms. Coot also moved her mother, Lola Perry, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, in with her. Her loved one passed away in 1999.
“My family and my Valdosta Dry Cleaners family (were) very supportive during those times, especially my bosses,” she said.
Working at the cleaners has been a lot different than working out in the fields, said Ms. Coot, who has worked in tobacco and cotton and picked beans and squash.
“Times sure have changed since I was growing up. I have lived through segregation to desegregation. History has been all around me. I’ve seen the bad, so I truly appreciate the good.”
Ms. Coot was born on May 6, 1937, one of two children of the late Jessie Page of Tampa, Fla., and the late Lola Page (Perry) of Valdosta. She attended Dasher High School.
Ms. Coot was married in 1954 to Johnny Clarkson, now deceased, and they had two children, Darlene Mance of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Johnny Clarkson Jr. of Ocala, Fla.
After that marriage ended, she was married four years later to Grady Bennett Sr., a marriage that lasted 42 years until his death. They had four children, Grady Bennett Jr., Teresa Bennett, Arthur Bennett and Sidney Bennett, all of Valdosta, and together Grady Sr. and Ms. Coot raised the six children. She has 31 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren, with another great-grand on the way.
“My grandchildren and great-grandchildren are what keep me going. I am proud of their educational accomplishments and many more to come. My most recent college graduate is my granddaughter, Britney Colquitt. She graduated this past December from Valdosta State University with a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education. My grandchildren know how to make their grandma smile.”
She’ll soon be taking her first airplane flight to Baltimore, Md., to see her great-grandson, Devon Walker, graduate from high school.
Ms. Coot is not going to retire just yet, but plans to slow down a bit ... at least at work.
“Since I will be cutting my work week down to two days, I plan to sew more often. I also plan to do a little more traveling and get plenty of relaxation in my free time,” she said, smiling.
Ms. Coot recently started working out at the Senior Center on Park Avenue and said exercise made her feel good.
Reflecting back on her almost half-century career at the dry cleaners, Ms. Coot said, “I thank the Lord for being able to work this long because without Him, I would not have made it.”
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