Centenarian Burley to be Celebrated With Socially-Distanced Parade

Hazel Burley, sixth from left, at an Ardent Gardener’s event in 1951. Photos submitted by Viola Leak.

By Ashley Benkarski with Viola Leak

NASHVILLE, TN — This year hasn’t been kind to those who love celebrations.

While many have skipped festivities altogether, one family has pulled together to give Hazel Burley a day she’ll never forget.

It’s already a special occasion as Burley, whose birthday is Oct. 3, will be 100 years old.

And while her loved ones are no strangers to going above and beyond for her, they wanted to make sure she could celebrate her special day safely with family and friends by throwing a socially-distanced “parade” in her honor starting at at the intersection of 34th Avenue North and Clare and proceeding to

Burley at her graduation.

Burley’s home at 940 35th Avenue. North to show her she’s loved. Participants will meet at the intersection’s stop sign from 3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m with the parade to begin immediately afterward.

The eldest of four children, Burley was born in the roaring ‘20s to Joseph Edward Suggs and Mable Hemphill. Her father, a veteran of the First World War and a survivor of the Normandy Invasion, was a football coach at Tennessee State University and her mother, a graduate from TSU, traveled to Robertson County to teach canning and how to preserve farm produce to the community.

The two founded a mom-and-pop grocery store which Hemphill used to encourage people to vote.

Burley was a graduate of the last class to attend school at the old Pearl High School building on 16th Street in Nashville and went on to graduate TSU cum laude with a major in English. She was a member of the Alpha Kappa Mu honor society and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

While at TSU she met Howard L. Burley, Sr. He’d received a scholarship to study at Howard University School of Pharmacy in Washington, D.C., which he took. After a year’s separation, Hazel and Howard married and moved to the nation’s capitol, where Hazel worked at the Bureau of Engraving while Howard attended school and worked as a guard in a medical museum.

After working at a few pharmacies in D.C., the couple moved to Nashville where Howard opened Consumer’s Drug Store and served the community for 60 years. Hazel and Howard were married for 71 years until his death in 2012 at 95.

Hazel and Howard had two children, Viola Burley Leak, an educator and visual artist, and Howard L. Burley Jr., M.D. Dr. Burley and his wife Dr. Rhonda Cunningham-Burley made them the proud grandparents of Raina and Rachel Burley.

Through the years Hazel has demonstrated interests in home, family and community. She has been involved in clubs for mothers and child development. She’s been dedicated to her church, Gordon Memorial, and involved in gardening from 1951 through her membership in the Ardent Gardener’s Club. The club served the community by installing the Doris Campbell Busby Garden and the Ruth McAlpine Fountain at General Hospital-Meharry Medical College, the purpose of which was to bring beauty and tranquility to the hospital. 

Burley attributes her long life to help from family, friends, church and community. It also helps to have good genes, she said. Her mother lived to be 106 years old and her father lived to 95.

She has good health practices and subscribes to and reads many health journals. She is a good example of Black Lives as well as all lives mattering through persistence, education, family unity, financial planning and networking, Leak said.

For inquiries on Mrs. Burley’s big day, call Viola Leak at 202-744-4574.