By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Mama Hale believed in the power of the newspaper.
She trusted the industry to help raise her sons as they threw The Commercial Appeal into people’s yards as youths. Then she invested in The Millington Star through information and financial support.
To Elizabeth “Betty” Hale, a newspaper could teach, inform, inspire, instruct, motivate and unite a community. My introduction to the woman who would become a mother figure to me was a phone call.
As Father’s Day approached she wanted me to do a retrospective piece on her late husband Walter and how he was involved with Millington Parks and Recreation baseball over the years. The tradition had passed down to her sons like Brian and Louis.
As a sweet, easy-going voice began to introduce herself, she told me who suggested she should call me. Before she could finish I said, “You’re Brandi’s grandmother?”
Later she told me that statement won her heart because I made it about the children and not the parents.
Over the years through conversations and her delicious gravy over her signature chicken or roast, I learned how much Mama Hale cares about her children and the youth of Millington.
So this past Mother’s Day, the gift God gave us Sept. 19, 1933 returned home when Mama Hale passed away May 11 in her longtime home with family by her side.
A family that adopted me as a son. Thanks to the matriarch of the Hale family, I was embraced and treated as son, uncle, brother and in some cases a cousin.
Through Mama Hale I got an advance lesson in holding a family together through tragedy like losing a caring son like Brian.
Or when death takes a soul too soon like Joshua. It was those times Mama Hale would make her way to the paper to submit the obituary so the public could be informed.
That way maybe prayers could be sent up by a stranger who read it. And years from now when a person comes across the paper, they will know who her son and grandson meant.
Words won’t do Mama Hale justice. Every time I ate a five-course meal she took the time to cook while in pain for me, I couldn’t describe how wonderful my soul felt.
From her pop-up visits to check on me and my family, I was left speechless. How she would introduce me as her son to her friends, all I could do was smile.
Thank you Mama Hale and I will hold on to the advice you gave me when we last spoke, “Take care of yourself, your family and this community.”
I hope I do half as well as you did. I love you Mama Hale and thank you.
Elizabeth “Betty” Ann Eckenrode Hale was born Sept. 19, 1933 in Westminster, Md., to the late Charles Donald and Marion Alice (Latshaw) Eckenrode. She was a valedictorian graduate of St. John’s Catholic High School in Westminster. She met Walter D. Hale, a Georgia native, in Westminster, and the two were married in Alexandria, Va. They then began a 22-year Marine Corps life, which took them to Quantico, Va.,; Garden Grove, Calif.,; and Cherry Point, N.C. In November 1966, they brought their nine children (at that time) to Millington, where Betty ardently began volunteering.
A natural-born leader, she had a talent for recognizing and meeting needs in the community, from forming organizations to sharing her famous cooking. She founded both the Millington Central High School’s PTA and Millington’s Community Day, as well as spearheaded many fundraisers within her various service organizations. She won a United Way Volunteer of the Year award in 1989 for cooking meals for the residents of Dismas House, a halfway house in Memphis. A large part of her volunteer work centered on her family’s schools and interests. She was an active participant in her children and grandchildren’s activities through both her attendance and her volunteerism. She served as a Boy Scout Den Mother; a member of the Band Boosters at Millington Middle and Millington Central High School; and a member of the PTAs at Millington South, Millington Middle, and Millington Central High School for many years.
Betty is survived by her two daughters, Barbara Hale (Steve Brown) of Memphis and Beth Hill (Andy) of Cordova, Md.; five sons, Charles (Janice) of Collierville, Walter (Tricia), David (Darla), Louis (Mary) of Millington, and Tom (Carol) of Bartlett; daughter-in-law, Nina of Munford; sister, Jane McCullough (George) of Chester, Md.; 18 grandchildren; 24 great-grandchildren; and four nieces and nephews.
In addition to her parents, Betty was preceded in death by her husband, Walter; daughter, Rebecca; three sons, Bill, Robert, and Brian; four grandchildren, Ricky, Bobby, Andy, and Joshua; and two sisters, Kathleen Lippy and Martha Thom.
A Rosary Service will be held at 5 p.m .on Wednesday, May 17, at Munford Funeral Home (Millington Chapel), followed by a visitation from 6 to 9 p.m. There will be a funeral mass at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, May 18, at St. William Catholic Church in Millington. Burial will be at Northridge Woodhaven Cemetery.
Memorial donations may be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital 501 St. Jude Place in Memphis.