Meet Jerry Emmett, Arizona's 102-Year-Old Honorary Delegate to the Democratic National Convention

From outside, Geraldine "Jerry" Johnson Emmett's house looks like any other quaint single-family home on her suburban street in Prescott, Arizona. But step inside and it's a different story.

It's like walking into a shrine to the Democratic Party.

"Vote for Hillary" and "I'm with Her" and other campaign signs are all around. There are photos of Emmett standing next to past and present party bigwigs, framed letters and knickknacks from elected officials, memorabilia from past state and national campaigns.

And we haven't even gotten to Emmett's "Hillary Room," a spare bedroom covered from floor to ceiling in Democratic Party paraphernalia, much of it devoted to this year's presumptive presidential nominee. Mugs, campaign buttons, signs, photos, letters — you name it, it's here. There's even a framed piece of an American flag sitting on a dresser, behind which sits a framed handwritten note from Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick explaining that the flag is part of one that flew "over our nation's Capitol during the historic first six months of leadership under President Barack Obama."

Emmett, who describes herself as a lifelong "good Democrat," is in Philadelphia this week for the Democratic National Convention. At age 102, she's the oldest member of the Arizona delegation. Though she has been an official convention delegate in the past, this year she's technically an honorary delegate, which means she gets to do everything but vote for the candidate.

And is she excited?

"I should say! I just hope I don't embarrass anybody by passing out or something," she confides, her pink-lipsticked lips parting to reveal a big-toothed smile.

Emmett remains very active in politics, and she's comfortable conversing at length about the minimum wage, taxes, and education. She's also surprisingly witty and relishes telling a story about the time she made Obama blush at what he apparently saw as an off-color joke.)

But while she has campaigned for Democratic candidates as long as she can remember and attended countless conventions, this election, and this convention, are different.

For Emmett, who was born before women gained the right to vote, getting to cast a ballot for the first female candidate from a major party in a presidential election is uniquely significant, and something she frankly never thought she'd live to see.

"I surely didn't plan to live past 100 years old," she says. "When I did, and I saw all these things that were happening, it was like I had a shot in the arm." She became even more enthusiastic about getting Democrats elected.

“I think Hillary is going to be the president of the United States," she says definitively. As for adding in Republican nominee Donald Trump, "I think he's a jerk — and that's about all I can say," she says. 

Asked what she likes about Clinton, Emmett speaks of the candidate's commitment to children and universal health care. To her, being a Democrat means "caring about the underprivileged, the people who cannot afford [basic needs]," and she believes Clinton embodies that characterization.

"I just like the philosophy of the Democratic Party. I believe in it," she says. “I had to depend on other people to help me get an education, to help me get through college." To Emmett, who grew up in Gilbert during the Great Depression and waited tables after school as a teen because her family couldn't afford college, being a Democrat means "not just thinking about yourself."

She holds up former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the quintessential Democrat, explaining that his New Deal-era political philosophies embody the spirit of what she has always loved about the party, and what she believes the country should return to: "I see nothing wrong with taxes. If I pay five cents on a hundred dollars so that some kid can get food, I think that’s perfectly all right. And I think that’s a Democratic view."

Emmett can talk endlessly about her admiration for Roosevelt, and she says she'll always have a special place in her heart for Obama. But when it comes to this year's politicians, while she liked a lot of what Bernie Sanders had to say, Emmett's admiration for Hillary Clinton is on another level entirely. To say she has been a fan of the former U.S. senator and secretary of state for years would be a massive understatement. She literally started the Hillary Clinton fan club in Arizona in the 1990s.

"I'm strictly joined at the hip to Hillary Clinton, and I've admired her all of her life," Emmett says, likening her candidate to a modern-day Rosie the Riveter or Eleanor Roosevelt. 

She folds her hands in her lap, seemingly searching for the words to convey the gravity of the moment. But just this once, Emmett is speechless. She simply smiles.

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser