PHILADELPHIA – Jerry Emmett didn’t think she would live to see her mother win the right to vote – much less to see the first woman win a major U.S. party presidential nomination.
But the 102-year-old Prescott resident had a front-row seat to just that Tuesday when she helped deliver Arizona’s delegation votes at the Democratic National Convention that named Hillary Clinton its 2016 nominee.
“We were all cheering when my mother got to go out and vote all by herself,” said Emmett, who was born in Iowa in 1914. “I didn’t even know I’d live to see my mother get to vote.”
A longtime Democrat and four-time delegate to party conventions, Emmett said she does not feel she can serve any longer because she is legally blind. But she was first invited as a guest to this year’s national convention and then made honorary delegation chairman by the state party.
Her party bonafides are solid: She said she founded the Democratic Women of Prescott Area at age 75 and started Arizona’s first Hillary Clinton fan club during her husband Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential run.
“I think someday, Hillary Clinton will be Woman of the World just like Eleanor Roosevelt,” Emmett said.
An inspiration to her party
Delegate Carolyn Warner met Emmett more than 60 years ago in Phoenix, when they were next-door neighbors and Warner’s husband asked Emmett to watch their three children while the Warners went to hospital for the birth of their fourth.
Warner, who had planned to have Emmett at the convention as her guest, was excited to take her friend on a tour Tuesday of Philadelphia, which Emmett had never visited before. She praised Emmett’s “endless supply of energy.”
“Jerry Emmett is an icon,” Warner said. “Jerry is the sort of person who is absolutely irreplaceable.”
While many were excited to have Jerry in attendance as the oldest delegate on the floor, the Arizona delegation’s youngest guests were particularly inspired by her presence.
Three Arizona high school students – Geneva Saupe and Katrina Tselentis of Tucson and Pier Ferdinando Cinotto of Peoria – were at the delegate breakfast Tuesday as representatives of the Junior State of America.
Saupe – who is now 17 but will be 18 in time to vote for Clinton in November – said it’s people like Emmett that inspire her to be politically active.
“She was born before women could get the right to vote,” Saupe said. “I’ve grown up my whole life just assuming it was possible that a woman could be president, and that’s the standard Hillary Clinton is setting.”
In the national spotlight
As honorary chairman, Emmett shared the spotlight Tuesday with Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, as they announced the delegation’s vote during the roll call of states that ended with the Clinton nomination. Gallego handed the microphone Emmett to read off Arizona’s votes for Clinton – 51 of the state’s total 85.
Harriet Young, another guest of Warner’s, said that the energy Emmett showed delivering Arizona’s votes is just a part of who she is. Young is a retired adjunct professor at Northern Arizona University – which Emmett graduated from in 1937 when it was still the Arizona State Teachers College.
“The thing is, she lives,” Young said. “She doesn’t try to conserve her energy. She says, ‘If I’m tired, I’ll just sit down.’”
Emmett has taught at schools all over Arizona, from Phoenix to Tombstone. She still keeps in touch with many of her students, 65 of whom showed up at her 100th birthday party to honor their former teacher.
It was in a conversation with one of these students that Emmett revealed her greatest hope for this election: To live long enough to make it to the convention.
But when the student told her that she needed to be there to see Clinton inaugurated as well – and that she was planning on making Emmett a special dress for the occasion – Emmett said she was just taking advantage of the time she has.
“I promised God I’ll be real good if he’ll just let me live through the convention,” Emmett said. “I don’t think I’ll make that (the inauguration) but I’m going to hang around as long as the Lord’ll let me.”