MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Kitty Sue Hooker loved to read the newspaper each day, turning first to the obituary section, according to her caretaker, Carol Belcher.
“She always wondered what they died from, so she wanted it in there what she died from,” Belcher said. It was COVID-19.
Hooker, who was 94 and in good health, first coughed on Christmas and died of the highly contagious respiratory disease on Jan. 2, her daughter, Katherine Boaz, said.
Her mother’s cough wasn’t bad, and when Boaz saw her on the Saturday and Sunday after Christmas, “It seemed to be getting better.”
On that Monday – Dec. 28 — she was hoarse again and coughing but otherwise “in good shape.” Her mother didn’t want medical help, but Boaz insisted, she said. She took her to Carilion in Martinsville, Va. to get the coronavirus test.
The positive results came back that Wednesday, but “she didn’t want to go to the hospital,” Boaz said. She went home.
“I was never scared” to take care of her, said Belcher, who had been a caretaker for Hooker for two years.
As soon as she found out Hooker had COVID, “I cleared it with my husband” to stay with her, said Belcher, who has been in isolation since. However, Belcher has not gotten sick, and she planned to get a coronavirus test.
“She didn’t like me wearing masks, but I did wear a mask,” Belcher said.
She stayed close to Hooker, even holding her hand when she passed away.
“She went very peaceful,” Belcher said. “I’ve never seen nothing like that, never. Most people have a death rattle or they’re breathing hard … she did not do that.”
Hooker's grandson Phil Garrett said: "It was fortunate that she didn’t suffer. She died peacefully at home. Those were her wishes. She did not want to go to the hospital.”
Kitty Sue Bridgforth, a Kenbridge native, married John Clyde Hooker Jr., who was the son of the founder of Hooker Furniture and went on to become the company’s chief executive officer from 1966 until he retired in 2000. They were married for 60 years by the time he died in 2010.
“She loved my dad. They were a real couple,” Boaz said.
“She learned to play golf so she could play with him on weekends. He didn’t want to play with her. He wanted to play with men – she didn’t realize that,” Boaz laughed.
However, her mother went on to become a local golf champion, winning many competitions in the 1960s and 1970s. Clyde and Kitty Sue Hooker also played golf regularly with friends in Martinsville, in North Carolina and, during their winter stays, Florida.
Boaz said her athletic mother played basketball in college, and she may have been a gym teacher in Martinsville early on.
Her mother was active in the Wesley Guild at First United Methodist Church, where “she enjoyed the flower part of that,” Boaz said. She arranged flowers both for church and home and always had fresh blooms in the breakfast room.
Garrett said his grandparents enjoyed a close relationship. “My grandfather came to the office every day even after he retired. When he couldn’t drive, Kitty Sue would bring him to work in the morning, pick him up for lunch,” bring him back to work, then pick him up in the evening, he said.
Her grandson Pres Garrett added, “She cherished her friendships. She cared for the community, and she cared how Martinsville was doing.”
He said she regularly watched The Weather Channel and gave her family appropriate warnings on bad days. She also was a fan of “The Price Is Right.”
“When Hooker Furniture had pieces on ‘The Price Is Right,’ she always made sure to watch, and she knew all the prices," he said.
She was involved with Charity League, Boaz said.
Hooker went to every Clyde Hooker Awards ceremony, representing her late husband, according to Piedmont Arts Executive Director Heidi Pinkston.
Her interests in both golf and gardening allowed her to be often outdoors, which she loved, said Phil Garrett. “She loved piddling in the yard and looked for any opportunity to mow the grass with the lawn tractor when the lawn guy” couldn’t make it, he said.
Her mother “enjoyed looking pretty,” Boaz said. “She cared about what her hair looked like, and she cared about the clothes she had on,” and she was a natural beauty who rarely wore makeup.
“She was one classy lady at 94,” Belcher said. “She was very special.”
Hooker had lunch every Tuesday at Third Bay with Anne Abercrombie and Carolyn Baptist, Belcher said, and she got her hair done each Tuesday and Thursday. She was always reading, especially mysteries.
“She got around good at 94,” and was always aware that a fall is dangerous to anyone that age, got around carefully with a walker and didn’t take any chances, Belcher said.
Hooker “liked baking pies,” Belcher said, and the pair would bake a pie or two each week. Hooker was famous for a chocolate pie with a recipe she guarded. The pair baked two pies and roasted pecans the week before Hooker died.
Family members said they appreciate Belcher, who would “do everything my mother wanted. Carol just was really so kind to her. She didn’t ever get frustrated or balk at anything my mother wanted, but did anything she could to keep my mother happy,” Boaz said.
“Other than a little arthritis,” she was in good health, Phil Garrett said. “I know there are no guarantees when you’re 94 … I like to think she probably had a few miles left in her, but unfortunately we can’t dictate when and where we go.”
Boaz said her mother’s death “was a shock. I didn’t expect for her to just get sick and die.
“She was independent and got to stay that way right to the end. I don’t know that you could ask for anything more than that.”
Holly Kozelsky reports for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org