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NELLIE MAE White Washington was a charmer. Even at age 106, she enchanted her caregivers with her irrepressible wit and a spirit that time could not erode.

Nellie Mae Washington
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NELLIE MAE White Washington was a charmer.

Even at age 106, she enchanted her caregivers with her irrepressible wit and a spirit that time could not erode.

As a woman born during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and three years after the invention of the airplane, Nellie Mae was witness to enormous changes.

And she liked to keep up with them. She was a voracious reader and a history buff who knew what influences shaped the society in which she made her way, and she dispensed help and wisdom wherever she found the need.

She cherished a photo of an uncle who served with Roosevelt's Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War of 1898. As a black man, he stood out proudly.

Nellie Mae White Washington, a practical nurse who worked at Hahnemann University Hospital for many years and later became a private-duty nurse, died Friday. She was 106 and had lived in Stapeley Enhanced Living of Germantown for 13 years.

She had lived independently at her home in West Oak Lane until she moved to Stapeley in 1998.

"She will be missed, but her spirit will live on in those who loved her," her family said.

Nellie was born in Philadelphia to Thomas and Irene White. She grew up in North Philadelphia and later lived in West Philadelphia.

She got her early education from nuns of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, founded by St. Katherine Drexel to educate African-Americans and Native Americans.

She then attended Philadelphia High School for Girls, one of the few African-Americans in the prestigious school, a fact that was "relatively insignificant" to her, her family said.

Nellie then enrolled at the James Martin School of Practical Nursing and became a licensed practical nurse. After being part of the Hahnemann University Hospital nursing staff for a number of years, Nellie became a private-duty nurse caring for the sick and elderly.

"Countless times she opened her home to sick family members and friends in need of her care," her family said.

Nellie got so much satisfaction from her career that she insisted that her granddaughter Sylvia Wright attend the same school.

"I didn't really want to go to the school, but she insisted," Sylvia said. "It turned out to be one of my greatest blessings."

Nellie, known as Nana to family, married Frank Washington on May 23, 1925. They were members of St. Benedict Church for 30 years before his death in 1992.

Nellie was a dedicated reader.

"She was born with a book in her hand," her family said.

She read both fiction and history. One of her recent favorites were the books of Swedish writer Stieg Larsson, beginning with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

She also was a crossword-puzzle devotee. She felt challenged by the puzzles in the New York Times and the old Philadelphia Bulletin. She wasn't happy when the Bulletin closed, in 1982, because she believed that its puzzles were more challenging that those in other newspapers.

Nellie was also a dedicated traveler, enjoying cruises to the Caribbean and elsewhere. She celebrated her 88th birthday in Paris with granddaughter Sylvia and friends.

During her years at Stapeley, Nellie developed special relationships with staff and fellow residents. Among her cherished caregivers were Nettie Squire and Elizabeth Gizaza.

"Nana's mind was alert to the very end, and those around her marveled at her memory," her family said.

She is survived by four other grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren, and 16 great-great-grandchildren. Besides her husband, she was predeceased by a daughter, Nellie Irene, and a son, Frank Washington Jr.

Services: Funeral Mass 10:30 a.m. Friday at St. Benedict Church, Chelten Avenue and Garden Street. Friends may call at 9:30 a.m. Burial will be in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Cheltenham.