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99-year-old Eileen Fulton still ministers through piano recitals with daughtercomment (0)

April 1, 2010

By Jeremy Henderson

Eileen Fulton — Grand Darlin’ to most — is mostly blind from macular degeneration and can’t really hear, but she only lets Charlotte cancel their piano recitals for the serious stuff.

“She’s had a heart attack since we had our last recital, and she had a stroke [a few weeks ago],” said Charlotte Walker, Fulton’s daughter. “She won’t go to the hospital, just wants me to take care of her. I’m an RN so that helps. She just wants to go to heaven from here. I’m just honoring her request.”

And in the meantime, she — along with Fulton — is taking requests. At the last performance, someone wanted “Whistle While You Work.”

Mother, 99, and daughter, 74, obliged.

For the past two years, the two women, both of whom belong to (but do not regularly attend because of Fulton’s health) Hopewell Baptist Church, have been entertaining guests in their Tuscaloosa home with duet versions of classic hymns, classic Disney songs and just plain classics like “The Entertainer.”

They’ve performed 16 recitals on the back-to-back baby grand pianos in their living room.

“We’ve had a good time, and it turned into a ministry,” Walker said. “We’ve had over 260 people come in small groups to hear us.”

Pat Garyotis, a member of Calvary Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, is a regular.

“It’s wonderful,” Garyotis said. “This lady is 99 years old, and she can’t see out of one eye, and she can’t hear one note. When I was there, they didn’t have to start over or anything.”

Fulton, who taught piano into her 70s, counts off and plays the songs mostly by memory; Walker keeps pace and handles the harmony.

“I give her the hardest parts,” Walker said, laughing. “She’s a spirited lady but [playing] gave her more zest for life. She says it doesn’t hurt when she concentrates.”

And she does concentrate.

“I couldn’t believe this spry little lady could be playing the piano like she was,” Garyotis said. “Of course, Charlotte is a good musician herself.”

Walker spent 21 years in the African missions field with her husband, Jimmy, who served as pastor of several churches across Alabama after the couple returned to the United States in the early 1980s. They moved to Tuscaloosa to help take care of Fulton in 1991.

He passed away in 2005.

The recitals are her way of continuing God’s work, Walker said.

“We’ve tried to invite people who don’t get much entertainment, who don’t get out,” she said. “We’ve had quite an assortment. Some from the nursing home. I went to pick up some to bring them to our house. Some that can’t see very well. Some that are new widows. Some with husbands that have very serious chronic health problems.”
Fulton has chronic health problems of her own.

“But she just laughs,” Walker said. “After [her last stroke] was over, she said, ‘I told the Lord I can’t come now. Charlotte doesn’t have anyone to play the piano with her.’”

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