Relatives toast an ‘exceptional’ Mama Iris as she celebrates 100 years
Iris Coley today celebrates a remarkable milestone, having survived 100 years – a feat she credits to placing God at the centre of her life, thankful that He has guided her through many of life’s challenges.
Born on December 31, 1921, the seventh of eight children for her parents – all of whom have predeceased her either during birth or from illnesses over the years – ‘Mama Iris’, as she is affectionately called, grew up as a little country girl in the district of Peckham in Clarendon.
Although she uses a cane to assist her in walking, and suffers from arthritis, hypertension and back pains, Coley remains mentally sharp and active, still able to be her authentic, helpful self.
She recalls her young days as being enjoyable and much simpler, as she and a sister would help their father, a farmer, on his sugar plantation and would travel with the packaged sugar to sell it to residents of Peckham.
“It was good, and our father and mother loved us,” she said of those years.
At age 13, Coley gave her life to the Lord and has nurtured her relationship with Him over the years.
In 1945, she tied the knot with her now-deceased flame, Sydney Coley, who hailed from Aberdeen, St Elizabeth, and the couple moved to the Corporate Area, where they settled and had six children – two boys and four girls – during their 65 years of marriage.
Even after her husband passed away in 2011 at 91 years old, after losing her second-born son at age 68 in 2015, Coley has remained steadfast in her Christian faith.
The newly minted centenarian told The Gleaner that it was her relationship with God that allowed her to successfully raise her children. It is what is also now helping her to bring up 10 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren to also love and serve the Lord joyfully, so much so that her fourth and fifth daughters went on to marry clergymen.
“Mi thank God for everything, and me grow them up in the Lord,” she said, as she sat with two of her sons-in-law, Winston Jackson, pastor of the Penwood Church of Christ, and Errol Bolt, pastor of Kencot Christian Fellowship, who married Heather and Carmen, respectively.
The family credits Coley, a renowned peacemaker of the family, as the glue that keeps them together.
A RARE GEM
Jackson describes her as a rare gem, with a quality that precludes her from taking sides in disagreements, noting that she would always call for peace and did not have family favourites – treating them all equally and loving them evenly.
Never leaving out prayer as part of her daily routine as she calls the names of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to the Lord, Coley is regarded as “an exceptional woman”.
“I think there’s a lot to learn from her,” said Heather Jackson, noting that she never holds grudges.
“I don’t know how she manages to love all six of us and the grandkids!” she exclaimed.
Reminded of Exodus 20:12 – “Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord, your God, has given you” – Mrs Jackson wishes to continue living by this commandment of promise not only her mother to live longer, but that she, too, will be able to live life graciously for years to come.
“Her love for the Lord, her encouragement. She is just a tower of strength. It is her love for God and her faith in God that has really kept her and us as a family together,” Mrs Jackson added.
Coley’s fourth child, Carmen Bolt, described her as “the hallmark of longevity” as her commitment to God has fostered the prayerful lives of her children.
“We have all learnt the value of prayer – the power of prayer – from her,” Mrs Bolt said. “It is prayer that has kept her this long, and it is her prayers that have kept our marriages.”
Her husband chimed in, offering thanks to God for Mama Iris, who He has blessed so she could provide him with his wife, to whom he has been married for 45 years.
Describing her as a teacher of how to live and grow old graciously, Pastor Bolt said he holds her in high regard.
“Not many men can say that about a mother-in-law, but I can. She’s just a glorious woman and I honour and treasure her very much,” he said.
Gillian Jackson, one of Mama Iris’ grandchildren, is grateful for the years spent under the family matriarch’s wings.
“She has always been so supportive and caring and she will always bend over backwards for you ... . There is nothing that I wouldn’t do for her, and this is one of the greatest feelings for me – to know that I am able to give my all back to her in this way,” she said.
Overcome with emotion after listening to the accolades, Coley was moved to tears, expressing hope that God will continue to bless her family and strengthen them – not only spiritually, but also physically – so that their marriages and lives will be long and fruitful.
“I’m giving God thanks for everything. They treat me well. For years them look after me. Me nuh have no regret,” said Coley.