Denzel Washington just reconnected with a very special figure from his past.
While in town to promote his new film Fences, Washington stopped by an assisted living community in Atlanta to wish Miss Connie, his childhood librarian, a happy 99th birthday.
The two had not seen each other in nearly 50 years, but the now-retired librarian never forgot the day Washington, around 7 years old at the time, came to the children’s department of the Mount Vernon public library to ask for a book.
When Washington became a movie star, Miss Connie enjoyed remembering the actor as the “cute little boy” who lived across the street from the library and would often stop in to say hello with his mother. After hearing her story, friends at Miss Connie’s assisted living community home decided to post a video of her retelling her memories of Washington to YouTube.
In the video, the former librarian recalls that the first time Washington came to the children’s section, he asked for a “little, skinny book” that he could read over the weekend, so that he could have his book report done by Monday. Miss Connie always cherished the memory, and was proud to learn that Washington gave back to the community after becoming wealthy, donating $1 million to the local Boys and Girls Club where he grew up. “He’s a wonderful human being,” she says.
After hearing about the video, Washington called Miss Connie and told her he also remembers that first day at the library. During the phone call, which was recorded for another video, Washington tells his former librarian that he never stopped reading, and made plans to see her in person while in Atlanta to promote Fences.
Finally, almost half a century since Miss Connie gave Washington his first library book, the two reunited in person on Wednesday in Atlanta. “Mr. Washington spent quite a bit of time with us. He came in and gave Miss Connie a kiss on the cheek,” said Brooke Munson, executive director of Atria Senior Living in Marietta, Georgia. “They held hands and he was even kind enough to get his mother on the phone so she could chat with us for a few minutes.”
Another staff member tells PEOPLE, “Denzel said to us, ‘You don’t know where the road is going to take you, and who you’re going to meet that will have an impact on your life. This lady had an incredible impact on my life, and now here I am.’ So it started with him reading those skinny little books, and now he’s making big movies.”
Miss Connie, an avid knitter, gave two scarves to Washington, one for him and one for his wife. She also gave the actor a scholastic book with a dedication in the beginning thanking him for the work he’s done with children, and she made a contribution to the Boys and Girls Club of Mount Vernon because of their connection. “She wants to make sure more children have the same opportunities that he had,” says a staff member.
In return, Washington gave Miss Connie, her daughter-in-law and grandson tickets to the special screening of Fences that night in Atlanta. “She really enjoyed the movie and thought it was very dramatic,” says Munson. Washington also introduced Miss Connie to his wife, who thanked her for the scarf, and the mayor of Atlanta.
“I think this is a big testament to what Atria does,” adds Munson. “We’re an assisted living community, not a nursing home, so our goal is to help residents live purposefully by finding out what they’re interested in and doing what we can to make their dreams come true. We knew how much this memory meant to Miss Connie, and it was a true team effort to make this happen for her. It’s been very touching for all us.”
Another staff member says, “Miss Connie worked with children, expanding their horizons and imaginations and teaching them to pay it forward. Now, seeing how Mr. Washington has turned out, she feels like he stands for everything she believes in.”