Caroline Ridley Howard, 99: UGA fan named her walker Herschel

When Caroline Ridley Howard chose to laugh — and that could be often — she made sure others could laugh with her.

Recently during a stay at Piedmont Hospital, she told one of her male physicians he was so good looking, she “wished she had on a pretty hat and could serve him ice cream,” recalled her namesake and granddaughter, Caroline Howard, with a hearty laugh. “But then she found out he was an LSU fan and she rescinded her offer.”

A dyed-in-the-wool University of Georgia fan, Howard had a bumper sticker on her car, which she drove into her 90s, that read: “Damn right, I’m a Dawg.” She used a walker that she named Herschel.

“She was such a UGA fan,” said her son, Pierre Howard Jr., Georgia’s former lieutenant governor. “And when she came through with her walker, she’d say, ‘Y’all better get out of the way, because Herschel will mow you down!’”

Caroline Ridley Howard’s life wasn’t all laughs and good times, but she had a resilience that helped her endure. She managed to keep going when her husband of 38 years, Pierre Howard Sr., and her mother died within days of each other. She beat breast cancer and was determined to remain the rock of the family when her middle son, John Ridley Howard, died in March from complications of cancer, said her granddaughter, Elizabeth Howard Newton.

“But her love for him was so great,” the former lieutenant governor said of his younger brother. “I think she died from a broken heart.”

Caroline Hill Ridley Howard, of Decatur, died Wednesday at home in her sleep, less than two months shy of her 100th birthday.

A funeral is planned for 11 a.m. on Monday at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Burial will follow at Decatur Cemetery. A.S. Turner & Sons is in charge of arrangements.

Decatur born, the former Caroline Ridley graduated from Girls High School in Atlanta and then earned a degree from Georgia State College for Women in Milledgeville, her family said. She returned to Decatur to being working and married Pierre Howard Sr. in 1938. When her first son, Pierre Howard Jr., was born, she stopped working outside the home to become a full-time homemaker. She and her husband raised three sons, but her reach extended beyond her front porch.

“She was definitely the mother of the SAE (Sigma Alpha Epsilon) chapter in Athens,” said Sam Wellborn, a family friend from Columbus. “Every time I looked up, she was there trying to keep us in order. But I regarded myself as her fourth son and I regarded her as my second mother.”

“In a lot of ways, she was the mother of an entire community,” said the Rev. Billy Wade, who grew up with Howard’s children. “She knew all of us and we knew she really cared about us. And we all really cared about her.”

Even her grandchildren said she functioned as a grandmother for many of their friends, said Newton, of Atlanta.

“So many of my friends said they felt like their grandmother died too,” Newton said. “She had an art and that was letter writing. She wrote letters to all of our friends and if she caught wind that something was going on, she would write them a letter. And my friends would tell me about these beautiful letters they’d received.”

Pierre Howard said his mother’s secret to a long life wasn’t really a secret at all. He said she didn’t hide her love for God and she didn’t hesitate to extend a helping hand to someone in need. And, he added, she definitely didn’t shy away from a good laugh. The night before she died, she asked a home care aid to reposition her left leg. The aide, thinking she’d be more comfortable after both legs had been moved, began with Howard’s right leg, her son said.

“She then said, ‘Just let Bucky do it. He knows his right from his left,’” said Pierre Howard, whose nickname is Bucky. “And then she started laughing, and we all started laughing.”

In addition to her son and two granddaughters, Howard is survived by son, Dozier Howard, of Decatur, four grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

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