In the early morning hours of May 24, 2009, Hazel Reid Huff passed away in Phoenix, Arizona at the age of 86 years old. Aunt Hazel was the youngest of the 13 children of Thomas Reid Sr. of Griffin, Georgia and Berkeley, California and Virginia Parker Reid of San Francisco and Berkeley, California, and the last to pass away. With her has gone the last of a pioneer generation of California African-Americans, who knew their slaverytime ancestors, worked through the dark years of segregation and war, built businesses, enjoyed careers, and raised children and grandchildren, and lived to see the election of the first African-American President of the United States.
Shortly before Aunt Hazel's death, one of her many nieces, Bonnie Allen, wrote the following thoughts:
This is a note to make the family aware that we are about to lose Hazel Reid Huff, the 86-year old last remaining offspring of Thomas and Virginia Reid. (Or, as she often laughingly put it, "the only real Reid left".)
I'm sure each of you has your own memories of Hazel, but mine are primarily centered around the 20 or so years we spent as roommates at my parents' home over the Christmas and July 4th holidays. In the hopes of her forgiveness I am now going to share our deepest secret with you: Every year Auntie Dot arrived at Christmas with a large box of homemade sugared walnuts for the entire family. Every year Hazel and I would graciously accept them on your behalf and hide the whole package in our bedroom. Then we'd stay up all night munching and giggling and refusing to share. In the years since we lost Dorothy I have been making the sugared walnut recipe and sending them to Hazel at Christmas. To be honest, they tasted much, much better when we were able to gobble them up together.
In many ways, possibly because of her lowest rung on the birth order, Hazel was somewhat different than other members of the Reid family. As the baby who came of age right at the onset of World War II she was afforded opportunities not available to her brothers and sisters. Marrying a professional golfer, Frank Huff, and accepting his loving daughter, Toni, as her own, Hazel became the only original Reid family member to secede from the Bay Area. She created a truly successful life in Arizona with a great job, terrific friends and of course her beloved Yorkies.
Sam, Hazel, and Toni Huff
Thoroughly organized, detail-oriented and always with a long-term plan, Hazel found a way to reach full-time retirement at the age of 58. So did that mean a move to a senior community? Laying back? Resting on her laurels? Not even close. Hazel spent the next decade and a half tap dancing across six continents with the Forever Young Dancers. She tapped in the middle of Tienamen Square. Danced through Gdansk. She was onstage at the Madrid Olympics. Singapore. Cairo. Moscow. Mexico City. Thailand. Hazel kept in touch with us via postcards emblazoned with exotic postmarks. During those days the question, "Where is Hazel?" could only be answered with "anywhere". Or even more to the point, "everywhere". The youngest daughter of a locally-bound family had become a citizen of the world with more stamps on her passport than the average diplomat.
Hazel Reid Huff (fourth from right) in one of her many senior dance troupes
I hope many of you are as lucky as I am to have wonderful memories of Hazel. Since we rarely saw each other more than twice a year my most vivid emotions involve the hours of phone conversations we shared laughing over politics and, let's be honest, just plain good ol' gossip. She was the person who I went to for counsel. I mean real counsel, as in "Am I out of my mind or does this make any kind of sense at all?" Hazel gave great answers. And support. And wisdom. I will try my best to keep her voice in my ear.
Hazel will leave behind her daughter, Toni, but she will also leave us with the ultimate role model and lessons for ourselves. And particularly our daughters:
1. Don't be afraid to make your own life in your own place.
2. Don't be afraid to go it alone because, as you can see how much Hazel is beloved, you are never really alone.
3. Don't think that life slows down at 50. Or 60. Or even 70. There is always time for one more adventure.
Pull out her picture and remember Hazel's indomitable energy, the good times and the laughter. Hazel's can-do spirit should inspire us to live our own lives with grace, courage, an unquenchable sense of adventure and the ability to change the ordinary into the extraordinary.
I will miss her forever.
New York City, New York