EVERETT — It was more like a fan club than a birthday party for an old guy.
An orderly formation of people filed through the downtown senior center. Barbecue and perfume scented the air.
When Carl Gipson, the man of honor, arrived he was ambushed by bear hugs and handshakes.
He patiently took time to reciprocate with a nod and a dose of that Gipson charm.
Asked what he thought of all the fanfare, Gipson said, “I deserve it.”
Then he laughed.
He wore a “Real men go bald” sweatshirt with jeans, tennis shoes — and a cap.
The party was in a building named after him, the Carl Gipson Senior Center.
More than 150 people, many dolled-up seniors, packed the community room festooned with balloons and two big sheet cakes.
“That’s all I need, my friends and my kids,” Gipson said.
An ad in last week’s Daily Herald invited people to Saturday’s birthday party for Gipson. It was in the obituary section, for the targeted audience. Gipson was the oldest on the page. He turned 95 on Jan. 11.
“It’s a celebration of life,” his son, Carlton, said at the event. “A long, prosperous life.”
Gipson was the first African American on the Everett City Council. He served 24 years, from 1971 to 1995.
Through his actions and determination, he accomplished what white men took for granted, and he led the way for black men and women.
It wasn’t easy, but that didn’t daunt him.
The grandson of a slave, Gipson grew up in the segregated South. He was a farmer before heading to California to build ships before being sent to serve in the Navy in Oak Harbor. He and his wife, Jodie, eventually landed in Everett. They bought a house in an all-white neighborhood in north Everett.
Gipson worked his way up from washing cars at the Sevenich Chevrolet dealership on Rucker Avenue. He later operated service stations, a car dealership and a restaurant. He was a church deacon, Boy Scout leader, PTA president and Rotary member.
“He taught us the essence of hard work and to appreciate the dime that you make, and there’s no job beneath you,” said son Ron, also a former city councilman.
In 2009, the city named the senior center in honor of Gipson, whose wife died in 2007.
Ping pong player David Lotz noted Gipson’s involvement with the center.
“He is a great supporter of our table tennis program,” Lotz said. “Carl throws out the first ball and that starts the tournament.”
Gipson, who now lives at the Washington Oakes retirement home in town, regularly eats lunch at the senior center. A large colorful mural at the center depicts the journey of his life.
“He is the epitome of a self-made man,” said Bill Rucker, grandson of a city founder.
Rucker, who spoke at Saturday’s party, was on the council with Gipson. “I was just a young guy,” Rucker said. “He made a tremendous impression on me.”
Guests were poured a frothy glass of Carlton Gipson’s “famous pink punch.” Ron and his kids served beef brisket, pulled pork and beans from his Gip’s Down-Home BBQ business.
The next party is planned for Gipson’s 100th birthday.
He plans to be around.
“He just got his license renewed, at 95,” son Ron said.