By Lonnie Wilkey
LAFAYETTE — Not every church gets the opportunity to help a church member celebrate a 100th birthday and concerns and restrictions caused by COVID-19 make it even harder, but First Baptist Church, Lafayette, found a way.
On Sunday, Sept. 6, about 20 church members gathered in their cars and drove to the home of Annette Cothron, a lifelong resident of Macon County and a member of First Baptist for 40 years, to wish her a happy birthday. Many stayed in their cars while others gathered on her lawn as she waved and greeted them from her porch.
Miss Annette, as she is known throughout the congregation, is an icon in Macon County.
“As her pastor, I stand in awe of her accomplishments,” said Tim Hickman, pastor of First Baptist. “She is an example to all for her unwavering faith, her undying devotion and her tenacious dedication to God and His people.”
Church member Rebecca Cutrell agreed. “Miss Annette is both a great follower and teacher and an inspiration to all generations at our church.”
Deacon George Tucker observed that “Miss Annette has led us in loving all. She makes sure that everyone knows that they are loved.”
A lifelong educator, Miss Annette served on the Governor’s Council for three terms as an education advisor and is a member of the Tennessee Teachers Hall of Fame. Not bad for a woman who was married at the age of 16 and had to drop out of high school to begin raising her family.
But she was determined to continue her education . “I studied and read books while I rocked my babies,” she said.
In 1945, wartime emergency summoned women to become substitute teachers and she began her teaching career before ever receiving her high school diploma. She later received the first GED in Macon County in 1947.
Miss Annette did not stop there. She began attending Middle Tennessee State University every summer, double majoring in English and education. She transferred to Peabody University, where she received her EDS and MA in special education in 1973.
She recalled that she drove more than 100 miles round trip during the summer to earn those degrees. Special education was her calling as one of her children, Carolyn, was a special needs child. Carolyn, now in her 70s, still lives with her mother in Lafayette.
When Carolyn was born, “my whole life changed,” Miss Annette recalled. Though she became a Christian at the age of 13, she learned then that “she needed the Lord” in a way she never had before. “Faith has brought me through many difficult times,” she affirmed.
Miss Annette said she realized there are “two ways to go when facing a hardship. They can be a burden or they can be a blessing. I chose blessing. And, Carolyn has been a blessing,” she affirmed.
During those years, Miss Annette became determined to change the way special education programs were viewed in the community. Though she is considered a pioneer in the field in Tennessee, she looks back realistically. “Nobody wanted the job and I had an incentive,” she said.
“I didn’t want to retire until every child was in the regular school system. I dreamed it would happen, but I had nothing to base that on but idealism. You have to dream and then work,” she said. And, she saw her dream realized when Macon County became the first county in Tennessee to mainstream special needs children in the schools.
She refuses to take all the credit. “You don’t do anything alone. I had the Lord’s help and the help of others.”
Miss Annette said she never dreamed she would live to age 100. “I was a workaholic,” she affirmed, laughing that she was told one time she would not live to age 50 because she was always working.
She credits her longevity to God, “If you put Him as number one in your life, He will be there for you.”
In addition, she has tried to live for the Lord. She taught Sunday School from the age of 15 to 95 (80 years), stopping only when the doctors suggested she stop following a heart attack at the age of 95.
Miss Annette is still going strong and though she does not leave her home very often, she still maintains a positive attitude. “Every day is a blessing,” she affirmed. B&R