Mama Marv-tastic, Annie Hamlin Johnson, turns 85 in style
Fashionably late, indeed!
Partygoers had partaken in meeting and greeting and the exchanging of pleasantries when the star of the evening made an audacious entrance.
Flanked by three of her strapping grandsons, outfitted in a modish gown in her signature purple and bauble-laced from her head to her fingertips, Annie Hamlin Johnson was the belle of this ball, and she knew it.
Known for living life to its fullest, Hamlin Johnson celebrated her 85th birthday Saturday with several dozen family members and friends at the Marriott Twin City Quarter. To many, she is known as “Mama Marv-tastic,” a name bestowed upon her by her late son, Larry Leon Hamlin, founder of the National Black Theatre Festival and N.C. Black Repertory Co. Though her son’s accomplishments are lauded the world over, Hamlin Johnson has become a star in her own right – largely because of her big heart.
“She never met a stranger,” said her granddaughter Reba Moore, who emceed the soiree. “Grandma talks to everybody.”
She has taken many under her ample wings over the years. When she asked her “children” to stand up, a third of the party guests rose to their feet, while her blood daughters, Sherrie and Linda, grinned and kept their seats.
Evangelist Jackie Faucett Josie considers Hamlin Johnson her “second mother.” It has been that way since she was a child in Hamlin Johnson’s native Reidsville.
“I have known her since I was born and have loved her since then,” said Faucett Josie, who honored the birthday girl with a stirring gospel tribute.
A musical salute also came from Gordon Slade, Hamlin Johnson’s nephew. The two are close enough in age that Slade was often sent with her to teenage dances at the local armory to keep watch, but Hamlin Johnson was having none of that.
“I used to not see her again until the time we were leaving,” he recalled for partygoers before delivering a spiritually-remixed version of “Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me.”
Though she is rarely seen without her trademark wide smile, Hamlin Johnson has endured many storms. Both her sons have gone on to glory. Charles “Richard” Hamlin died several years prior to Larry Leon’s passing in 2007. She says her faith brought her through. Rev. Mack H.L. McConnel, pastor of Saint James Missionary Baptist Church, said her quiet strength has inspired others.
“She has encouraged every one of us to stay steadfast,” he said during the prayer he delivered to open the celebration.
Hamlin Johnson’s own pastor, Dr. Sir Walter Mack Jr. of Union Baptist Church, also led a prayer and gave words of praise for one of the most devoted among his flock.
“She brings a smile to all of our faces,” said Mack, who added that Larry Leon’s stage presence and gregariousness was inherited from his mother.
Mack and his wife, Kim, had a busy Saturday. There was a funeral, a wedding and other obligations. But when it was time for Hamlin Johnson’s get-together, the couple temporarily halted everything.
“I wouldn’t have missed this for nothing in this world,” Mack said.
Hamlin Johnson began her remarks standing behind a waist-high wooded podium.
“I love Jesus Christ. I love people,” she said after thanking attendees.
Then, in a moment that surely would have made Larry Leon proud, she stepped from behind the podium, microphone in hand, to deliver an extemporaneous skit – complete with one-liners and a redacted version of “Stormy Weather.”
Hamlin Johnson gave her guests a charge to embrace and live by, simple advice that has served her well.
“You have to be nice to people,” she said. “When you are nice to people, they are nice to you.”