Elma McFall, 98: Shared Atlanta history with her family

Armed with a scanner, Elma McFall and her younger daughter, Angela Patterson, could be found riding through Tucker on any given Sunday afternoon. They weren’t ambulance chasers; they were listening for something else: a train.

“She loved to see the train, or really any train,” said her son-in-law Sherrod “Pete” Patterson of Decatur. “And she was the keeper of the scanner anytime they rode through Tucker, looking for a train.”

Having lived next to railroad tracks for more than 40 years, McFall liked to watch trains rumble down the tracks, Patterson said. She’d wave to the engineers, and in the day when there was a caboose, she’d wait for it and wave to the person there, too. After Patterson taught her what to listen for, she liked taking the long way home, in hopes of spotting a train on the way, he said.

Elma Gulsby McFall of Decatur died March 5 after experiencing a stroke the week before. She was 98. She requested her body be donated to the Medical College of Georgia. A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. Barnabas Anglican Church, Dunwoody.

Born in Columbus, McFall spent most of her life in Decatur and DeKalb County. She watched Clairmont Road develop from a gravel street to a multilane road. She remembered the devastation of the 1917 fire that destroyed much of the Old Fourth Ward, and she could easily recall helping motormen turn streetcar seats around, preparing for its return trip to downtown Atlanta from Decatur.

“She loved telling those stories,” said her daughter Lee McFall. “And we loved hearing them just as much. She could give us a snapshot of life over almost the last 100 years.”

McFall started working at an early age, and her jobs included running the candy counter at the Woolworth in downtown Atlanta and working at the Sears catalog distribution center on Ponce de Leon Avenue. She also worked at Zachary’s, a men’s clothier in Atlanta. It was there she met Robert Martin McFall, whom she married in 1937. The couple had two daughters, and were preparing to celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary when he died in 2000.

After she married, McFall became a full-time homemaker, and she devoted her life to caring for her family. She filled her days volunteering at the different churches she attended and spending time with her many friends.

“When people asked her about her longevity, she would say, ‘I never smoked, I never drank, I had people to love me and God to bless me every day,’ ” Angela Patterson said of her mother.

McFall’s daughters are her only immediate survivors.