Elizabeth "Bessie" Young, 91, clothes presser and family matriarch

Posted: June 26, 2014

BEING A PRESSER in a dry-cleaning store doesn't sound like a job many people would covet - the long hours, the pressure, the steam, the heat.

Elizabeth Young loved it.

She did piece work for Eagle Cleaners for 10 years and Bell Cleaners for 33 years. Breaking her ankle in a misstep at Bell at about the age of 65 didn't discourage her. After healing, she was right back at work.

"I had to encourage her to retire," said her grandson, Robert McCray, which meant he had to practically drag her away.

Elizabeth "Bessie" Young, a woman who obviously thrived on hard work, a diligent block leader in her North Philadelphia community and loving matriarch of a large family, died June 15. She was 91.

As a presser, Bessie specialized in heavy overcoats, tweeds and cashmeres, but, of course, she could press anything. The long hours would likely kill most people. She would start working at 4 a.m. and wouldn't quit till after 4 p.m.

"She just loved pressing clothes," said her grandson. "The heat, the long hours didn't bother her. She always had money."

Bessie was born in Philadelphia to Sidney Jefferson Sr. and Ola Mae Jefferson. She graduated from William Penn High School for Girls. Her marriage to the late Edward Cooper ended in divorce. She married Willie J. Young in 1957.

Bessie was a popular neighborhood fixture. She would sit on her stoop or at her front window and greet passers-by. They would chat for a time before passing on, making way for the next neighbor.

At one time, Bessie was treasurer of the 1700 block of Edgeley Street. She was active with the group as it sought to improve the block by keeping the streets clean and holding parties. She was a founding member of the block's Helping Hand Club, which took care of elderly residents and shut-ins.

"She was truly an advocate for the betterment of the neighborhood," her grandson said.

Bessie was an outstanding cook, specializing in spaghetti, pineapple upside-down cake and barbecued short ribs.

"Her short ribs were so tender, all you needed was a fork," Robert said.

With five brothers and all of their children, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners could be spectacular family events.

Bessie was a big sports fan, who loved watching the Eagles, Phillies and Sixers. She was also a devoted fan of professional wrestling.

"I made sure she had cable TV because she would watch wrestling at least three times a week," her grandson said.

Jackie Robinson, who integrated professional baseball, was a hero, as was Tiger Woods, and, of course, President Obama.

"His election was the greatest thing in her lifetime," Robert said.

"She was beautiful, genuine, very truthful and always displayed unconditional love," her grandson said. "Her generosity was unlimited."

Besides her husband, she is survived by a daughter, Marilyn McCray; a brother, Leon Jefferson Sr.; another grandchild and six great-grandchildren.

Services: Were Saturday. Burial was in Rolling Green Memorial Park, West Chester.

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