Columnist writes about mom’s friend

Published 8:46 am Friday, January 6, 2012

Courtland native John Railey, the editorial page editor for the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina, recently wrote a column about Selma Hill, his mother’s best friend who died more than two years ago.

The son of Hazel Railey and the late Richard E. Railey Sr., John started off by wishing Selma a Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday. You see, Selma was born on Christmas Day.

John described Selma as his second mother. Amongst his family, Selma’s name still comes up at least once a month, he wrote.

John said he still envisions Selma as tall and graceful, with silver hair and big brown eyes that warmed your soul. When you were talking to her, she made you feel like you were the only person in the room.

John referred to Selma as the kind of person with whom you could laugh and cry. Either way, she accepted you and loved you unconditionally.

“She never talked ill of anyone,” he wrote. “If you asked her about somebody whom she might not be fond of, the worst she’d say is “I don’t really know her.”

John went on to write that Selma’s husband died early, leaving her to raise their three young children. She had attended Longwood College and took a job at the post office.

“A lot of women in similar circumstances might have become bitter and withdrawn, or at least too busy to comfort anyone outside their own home,” John wrote. “Not Selma. Walking downtown to see her, back in the day when our little town and so many others had downtowns, was fun. You’d walk in the little brick post office, and Selma would give you a big smile from behind the counter. You knew that whatever was bothering you was going to be all right.”

John noted that Selma loved laughter, good books and a good conversation, and always drew a crowd wherever she was.

John also noted that he always thinks of Selma when he thinks of Christmas, yet can’t remember ever celebrating her birthday on Christmas Day.

“She never called attention to the fact that her birthday was on Christmas,” Hazel Railey said. “She was very modest, and she didn’t want to take any attention away from that very special holiday.”

That was just one more gift Selma left us, the model of thinking of others more than ourselves, John added.

Out of curiosity, I looked up Selma’s obituary, which ran in The Tidewater News on Oct. 21, 2009.

Selma died Sept. 30, 2009, at her home in Richmond.

She was the widow of Roland Scott Hill Sr. and was survived by their children, Susan Hill Boisseau of Richmond and twin sons Christopher Oman Hill of Covesville and Roland Scott Hill Jr. of Richmond. She had five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren and was buried at Riverside Cemetery in Courtland.

Thanks, Hazel, for sharing John’s story about Selma with us.

GWEN ALBERS is managing editor of The Tidewater News. Her email address is