NEW YORK -- Minnie L. Gaston's lifetime of work has earned her the right to that old rocking chair.
Instead of rocking, Gaston, 75, has launched a new career with her 'Minnee Skin Saver,' a skin cream she developed in her kitchen.
Gaston hardly needs to profit from her newest venture. Her husband, A.G. Gaston, of Birmingham, Ala., at 92, is a millionaire many times over. And she is president of the Booker T. Washington Junior College of Business, in Birmingham. The school is looking toward its 45th year.
'You ask why I'm going into this new field,' she said 'It was either let the product die, give it away, or sell it. So I'm selling it.'
The name is a French adaptation of her own. 'We have visited France many times,' she said.
Gaston, interviewed when she came to New York to launch the cream nationally, said there were two other products waiting in the wings -- a cleanser and a body lotion.
'My husband's all for my going into business,' he said, 'but he's not involved in the operation.'
Her husband goes to his office daily, despite his years, overseeing his interests in insurance, banking, real estate and other enterprises.
Gaston said the skin cream was developed through her interests in keeping her husband healthy during their more than 40 years of marriage and in maintaining her skin health despite her busy schedule.
'Combining lots of vegetables seemed to help my husband,' she said, 'and I found that combining oils and vitamins would help my skin.'
The interest in natural foods and skin preparations was encouraged by numerous vacation trips the couple took across the United States and around the world.
Gaston said she would let her husband spend the day deep-sea fishing while she made the rounds of stores in search of information on local health and skin care products.
For years she worked in her kitchen on blends of assorted oils and other ingredients.
All this was done while she ran the business college and also was active in civil rights and equal rights for women.
She was born the fourth of 16 children in rural Lowndes County, Ala., which she called 'the smallest and poorest' county in the state.
'We were poor but not immensely poor,' she said. 'My mother's father was adopted by a slave-owning family and they left him about 1,000 acres. Most of the 13 children still living are in Lowndes County.'
Gaston studied at Alabama State University, graduated from the Tuskegee Institute, and also attended New York University. She taught school before she opened the business college with an enrollment of 50.
The year was 1940. 'I helped to train everyone who eventually went to work for my husband. I told them, 'If you can recognize a typewriter, I can train you.''
Today, she said, there are more than 10,000 graduates all over the world. She calls them 'my children.' She has no children of her own, but does have a well-known niece, Carol Jenkins, a newscaster for WNBC-TV.
Through the years, the Gastons have been involved deeply in the civil rights movement. Their support ranged from providing bail money early on for demonstrators, including Martin Luther King Jr., to making some of their property available to the 'Selma to Montgomery Marchers.' Often, she said, she and her husband were threatened and there were actual bombings of the Gaston businesses.
The Gastons helped elect the first black mayor of Birmingham, Richard Arrington. And the college president also accepted Alabama Gov. George Wallace's invitation to serve as a member of the state's Status of Women Commission.
Gaston, active also in improving educational opportunities for the nation's young, served on special congressional committees on education. She said she got to know four presidents -- Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Carter. She and Carter's mother, Miss Lillian, were good friends.
'I believe energy depends a lot on your attitude. Mine is very forward looking.'