Most mornings just after 8 a.m. Mary Fannie Woodruff, 103, arrives at Woodruff's Cafe and Pie Shop to peel apples, fold pie boxes and check the ingredients for her sweet potato and buttermilk pies. It all began in 1952, when she and her late husband built a two-story cinder-block building on a rural highway near Monroe, Virginia, about 180 miles southwest of Washington, D.C.
The couple raised their five children in the apartment above the grocery store, and Mrs. Woodruff spent many busy summer afternoons pumping gas for vacationers. Woodruff's were the only children of color at the local school, and someone once threw a brick through their window to protest integration, but the kids stayed in school anyway. The shop, which is on State Road 130 in Amherst County, was turned into a sandwich and pie cafe in 1998 by Woodruff's daughter, Angela Scott. Scott was later joined by her twin sisters Darnell Winston and Darnette Hill, and Mrs. Woodruff was delighted to have her daughters together again.
Angela says, "People walk in and their eyes light up when they see the pies in the case, and then see Mama. 'Look, there she is!' they whisper. Everybody loves her." In fact, many customers stop in just to see Mrs. Woodruff, which pleases her so much that she has no plans to retire. "More than anything, I like to sit and talk to the customers,"she says.