Leading up to the celebration of her 116th birthday, Besse Cooper will have a bridge named after her during a ceremony Friday.
The world’s oldest person as recognized by The Guinness Book of World Records, Cooper lived and taught in Between, a few miles from the bridge on New Hope Church Road that will bear her name. Cooper will be unable to attend the ceremony but family members said she smiled when told about the honor.
“She acknowledged it and seemed to be pleased,” said Sidney Cooper, her son. “We’re all very pleased by it. We think it’s really great and we are very appreciative to the county for it.”
The Walton County Board of Commissioners earlier this month unanimously approved naming the bridge over the Alcovy River for the county’s most famous international resident. County officials wanted to have the bridge naming ceremony close to her actual birthday, which is Sunday.
“It is an honor for Walton County to have the oldest living person in the world residing here,” Walton County Chairman Kevin Little said. “The naming of the bridge in honor of Ms. Besse Cooper will forever recognize her and this achievement.”
Cooper was born Aug. 26, 1896, in Sullivan, Tenn., and moved to Georgia in the 1920s. After marrying Luther Cooper in 1924, she taught at the Between school before widowed in 1963. She has four children, 12 grandchildren and many great- and great-great-grandchildren.
The movement to have the bridge named after her began in July as the construction on the bridge was nearing completion.
Between, with a population of 296 according to the 2010 census, is amid a small transformation from its facade of a sleepy little hamlet. In recent years, a fire station was built that now serves as the headquarters of the Walton County Fire Rescue and there is also an office of the Department of Driver Services.
“Besse is such a sweet woman. I have had a chance to talk to her, hear her stories, and if we are going to be put on the map, she is a great reason,” Between Mayor Polly Gasstrom said, adding. “I know a lot of people will be happy when that bridge opens up.”
In March, work began on replacing the bridge on New Hope Church Road over the Alcovy River, which was below the 100-year flood plain, was narrow for vehicles like fire trucks to cross with oncoming traffic and had not guard rails, in addition to corroded beams. The road will open for traffic immediately after the ceremony, which begins at 2 p.m.