Memphian Mary Alice Gandy waited 106 years to cast her first vote. Now her grandson is hoping he can inspire kids to exercise that right much sooner.
William Gandy, a local hairstylist and church musician, recently turned the story of his grandmother's first vote — during the 2008 presidential election — into a children's book titled Grandma's Big Vote.
Born in 1902 to sharecroppers in rural Mississippi, Mary Alice, according to her grandson, didn't have much interest in voting until Barack Obama ran for president.
"She had seen advertisements that we had a black candidate, and she was so highly motivated by that that she wanted to vote. So I said, 'Let's get you registered,'" William said.
During the early voting period, William drove his grandmother, whom he affectionately called "Muh," to the Shelby County Election Commission, where she was met with news cameras and reporters eager to tell the story of a 106-year-old woman casting her first vote.
After Obama was elected, William said the his administration offered to pay Mary Alice's way to attend the presidential inauguration, but she declined because of her health. Instead, she watched the event on TV at her Memphis home.
William recounts Mary Alice's first voting day in his children's book alongside illustrations by Memphis College of Art graduate Brian Truesby.
"After I realized how determined she was to get to the polls, and I thought about all the people out there who make excuses for not going to the polls, I realized I needed to put it in book form," William said. "I actually had a dream about it, and I got up at 4 a.m. and put the whole thing down on paper."
In addition to recounting his grandma's first vote, William also provides a few details in the book about his grandmother's life. For example, she loved having William drive her past Graceland to see the holiday light display, and when her family celebrated her 100th birthday, she insisted on leaving her birthday banner hanging in the den for weeks.
"Mary Alice was a remarkable woman. She was still cooking at age 100," said Nathaniel Nolan, William's long time friend and marketing director for the book. "She was a stern, firm lady, and she spoke her mind."
Mary Alice died at age 108 in 2009, but her legacy lives on in Grandma's Big Vote. Though the book is currently on sale at the Booksellers at Laurelwood, William hopes to make the book required reading in schools. Inside the back cover, there's a "My First Voter Registration" form that kids can sign and tear out.
"It is our goal to get this book in every school across the country," Nolan said. "We want everyone to be talking about what we can do to get people to the polls."
Additionally, William hopes to turn Mary Alice's voting story into a full-length movie.
"We're working on the screenplay now. Hopefully, we'll shoot it in Memphis soon," Nolan said. "The message is simply to get up and go vote. If a 106-year-old can be inspired to go to the polls and vote for the first time, that should be an inspiration to all of us."