By Brandon HENSLEY
There she is, shaking hands with the Queen. She’s dressed up for the honor – she’s always ready for any occasion – this day in an all-white ensemble, complete with her white gloves touching the hands of royalty as she leans over the chain that separates the two.
Then you put the photograph down and look at the woman presently standing there, and it seems as if she hasn’t aged at all.
So what’s the big deal? The date of that photograph in Santa Barbara, when Anita Mackey met Queen Elizabeth II, was taken on March 1, 1983. Thirty years ago, and she looks practically the same.
“That’s what they say,” Mackey said.
Mackey celebrated her 99th birthday on New Year’s Day, a lifetime away from special events she shared with her late husband and their late adopted son. But she keeps going, saying that time seems like it’s actually slowing down.
She talks quickly, only pausing when she’s concentrating hard on her next word, and sometimes she’ll close her eyes tight while doing so. But she doesn’t seem to have lost anything in her head. If you say she’s sharp as a tack, she’ll respond, “sharp as a dull tack.”
Mackey lives in Glendale’s Scholl Canyon Estates, an independent living complex, a place she’s resided since 2008. Her life before that, though, was spent in service, mainly as a social worker, including 30 years as a clinical social worker for veterans in several U.S. cities.
Society’s appreciation to Mackey for her work is well documented. Aside from being one of seven people chosen by the city of Santa Barbara to meet the Queen, she was named the city’s Woman of the Year in 1976, received several distinguished awards on the federal level and is listed in several editions of “Who’s Who of American Women.”
Mackey, who is black, has been a persevering figure in the black community. She looked up to her father, who she says was a perfectionist, and said he was the reason she never took a swimming lesson while she was young.
Her father sued the city of Riverside in 1921 because blacks were only allowed to swim in the community pool on Monday, when the water was changed. Eventually the other side of town where Mackey lived got a separate pool, but Mackey never went in.
While working for veterans, she’d get name-called now and then. One time she came to see a veteran and he called her the ‘n’-word. She told him she didn’t have to come back to see him, and she walked away, but he called after her.
“Do you want me to see you?” she asked, and he said yes. “Then none of that foolishness,” she told him.
“You always have to cope as a black person,” she said. “Something’s going to come up. It’s how you handle it.”
Mackey is well-traveled, including having visited Africa several times. She made her first visit there in 1950, and in 1954 she and her husband Harvey adopted a son from Africa, named Olu Ola Adekanmbi, who came to the U.S. and earned his doctorate from the University of Oregon.
He passed away in 2006, but Mackey still keeps in touch with his son Alexander, who lives in Michigan. Alexander told Mackey they might start planning her 100th birthday celebration in Africa sometime this summer.
Though Mackey is without immediate family in Glendale, she said she is not lonely.
“No, because I’m a great reader. I read all the time,” she said, and counted the Bible as her main literature. She doesn’t watch much TV or see movies – she saw “Lincoln,” and that’s pretty much it for her cinema viewing.
Not that she can’t get around. She walks impressively with one of her many canes – custom ivory and ebony from Africa – and keeps a healthy diet.
“I’ve always taken care of myself,” she said. “I’ve never wanted to be dependent on people through my fault.”
She said she wants to live as long as she has a good mind.
“I’m blessed and I’m thankful to God every day,” she said.