Still making a difference

December 05, 2019
These days, the secret to a long life is not really a secret: While good genes are important, staying active and engaged are known antidotes to aging. At 96 years old, Lula Marie Sullivan is living proof of that.
“I think the main thing that has kept me going is keeping my mind busy,” she says, “and not just sitting around getting old.”
It’s been 35 years since Sullivan retired from the Marshall office of the Texas Highway Department (now the Texas Department of Transportation), where she was a senior engineering technician—the highest level she could achieve without an engineering degree. She remembers her 40 years with the agency fondly.
“I loved every minute of my time I worked for the Highway Department,” she says. Like many women of her generation, Sullivan learned bookkeeping and administrative skills at a two-year college. Her manager at the Highway Department took note of the self-described “math fiend” and began giving her drafting assignments. She was one of the first two women in her district office assigned engineering roles.
In the mid-1980s, when computers started to replace more of her tasks, Sullivan, then 60, decided to retire. In the following years she remained active in her church and traveled as she pursued genealogy, tracing her and her husband’s ancestors to the 1700s.
After three strokes in a little more than a year, Sullivan has had to cut back on some of her activities, but she still enjoys tending the flowers in the Henderson townhouse complex where she lives. She doesn’t own a computer or smartphone, but does plenty of communicating through handwritten letters (her typewriter is beyond repair, she explains) in the kind of script that’s becoming a lost art.
While Sullivan and her late husband never had children, she has been a loving presence to newborns and children in her community, some of whom she has outlived. In recent years, this has included giving them books by East Texas-based children’s author Sharon Thayer, and particularly Thayer’s book, If You Tell Me, I Can Fly!, a story about empowerment and encouragement told through simple metaphors in nature.
That’s her mission–to be a positive influence to children. At 96, she’s still making a difference in the world.
In the spring, Thayer plans to release a supplement to If You Tell Me, I Can Fly! that will feature ordinary “heroes” who succeeded against the odds and the unlikely heroes who influenced them. She plans to include Sullivan as a special supporting hero for spreading the message to children from the day they are born that they can do anything.
“That’s her mission – to be a positive influence to children,” Thayer says. “At 96, she’s still making a difference in the world.”
Sullivan worries that she may come across as bragging when she talks about the blessings of a long life. She wants others to know she’s just grateful. “I consider myself lucky to have as good of a retirement as I have,” she says. “I’m just so thankful that the Lord has provided me with the ability to be active, and helped me keep my mind and my body pretty good.”