Macon socialite dies at 99

Laura Nelle Anderson O’Callaghan, a well-loved socialite whose support was crucial in funding the charitable W.T. Anderson Health Center, has died.

A member of the Anderson family, whose members owned and published The Macon Telegraph for many years, O’Callaghan was 99. She died Sunday, and a memorial service is planned for 5 p.m. today at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Macon.

A popular entertainer, cook, gardener and bridge player, O’Callaghan lived for many years in a historic Shirley Hills home. The house remains well-known, filled with history and maintained by O’Callaghan’s daughter and her husband.

“I think she wants to be remembered as a very fair person, progressive minded,” her daughter, Denny Jones, said Monday. “She was a people person. Her relationships with people were more important than money.”

O’Callaghan and her husband were founding members of the Macon Duplicate Bridge Club. The Peyton Anderson Foundation in Macon is named for her family and funded by her brother Peyton’s estate. The W.T. Anderson Health Clinic at The Medical Center of Central Georgia is named for her uncle, and O’Callaghan and another heir went to court in the 1990s to make sure his estate helped fund the center.

When he died in 1945, W.T. Anderson wanted some of his estate to subsidize health care for poor black people in the Macon area. But by the mid-1990s that hadn’t happened, and O’Callaghan pushed to enforce the will. Now an Anderson trust helps fund the center, where charges are made on a sliding scale and are based on the patient’s ability to pay.

“She did the right thing,” Jones said.

A gregarious wit who spoke her mind and remained sharp in her old age, O’Callaghan threw wonderful parties, friend and neighbor Alacia Rhames said. She was “the epitome of a Southern lady” who could always “look at the fun side of life,” Rhames said.

O’Callaghan graduated from Wesleyan College, where she studied Latin, Jones said.

That decision was made, at least in part, because the lack of Saturday lab classes allowed her to attend University of Georgia football games, Jones said.

Jones said her mother embraced new things, learning to use e-mail before younger members of the family.

A grandson used to give her music by Widespread Panic, a popular rock ‘n’ roll band, which she would listen to in the car, Jones said.

“She used to say ... ‘it’s not if you have problems, it’s when you have problems and how will you deal with it,’ ” Jones said.

“When you have problems move forward and don’t look back.”

To contact writer Travis Fain call 744-4213.