The charm of Mrs. Flo Hamel Selby

By JAMIE PATTERSON,

Dah-h-lin, well aren’t you so precious.

It is a greeting that only comes from a genuine Southern lady. And Mrs. Flo Selby is that lady.

The Yazoo County native was an educator for over 40 years. And although her instruction was top of the line, it was her warm spirit and authentic kindness that left a mark with many of her students.

“Flo had a smile on her face, and she truly loved all her students,” said Brenda Sue Milner. “She is beautiful inside and out.”

“When Flo welcomed me into this community so long ago, I realized what a real southern lady was all about,” added Judy Patterson.

Selby was born on Jan. 14, 1937 to Alton and Doris Hamel inside her family home on Patterson Road. It is the same home that she lives in to this day.

“My mother was born here,” Selby said, looking around her home. “The original house burned in 1890, but it is basically the same house it is now. It has seen very little renovation except in 1943 we did add the long front porch to the front of the house.”

Selby can recall when some work was done to their home by the Fouche family.

“Ben Fouche would bring me candy, and I would follow him around with a hammer,” Selby said. “I was always under his feet. I was such a little girl, but I thought I was a helper.”

Selby’s mother graduated third in her class from Delta State Teaching College with a major in education and a minor in Spanish, which she spoke fluently. Her mother was an elementary teacher for many years.

Selby’s father served in the United States Navy as a chief petty officer, overseeing cooking. After his time on the armed forces, he worked inside a laboratory for an asphalt company. He would eventually work at a power plant, where he later retired.

Growing up, Selby was an only child.

“But I loved it because I was spoiled by my parents and grandparents,” she said, with a laugh. “I loved being outdoors, playing with lizards and frogs. My Daddy taught me how to pick up snakes so I was very much a tomboy. I was never much to play with dolls.”

Selby could be found hunting, fishing and riding stick horses. She loved to spend time on Short Creek where a fishing trip would lead to a picnic.

“I admit I was a loner,” she said. “I didn’t have many children to play with around here. But I lived many happy years here with my family.”

Selby attended a four-room schoolhouse in the Valley community. It was there in the third grade that she was exposed to music, particularly the piano.

“Momma and Daddy did all they could to give me the things they didn’t have,” Selby said. “That was when they introduced dance and music to me.

Selby would later attend Anding High School and then Yazoo City High School.

“Our graduating class in 1955 was the largest they had for that time,” she said. “There were 88 people, and I still have some of those as close friends.”

Selby graduated high school with a love for music. And she saw how dedicated and devoted her own mother was as a teacher.

But when she first ventured off to Delta State University, it was psychology that she pursued. Al Young was her professor, and he also taught her mother.

“He told me that I was as witty as my mother,” Selby said, with a smile. “I don’t think I am funny at all.”

Selby loved psychology and made excellent grades, but she also incorporated core education and music courses into her studies. And then, something happened.

“My grandmother’s health failed, and she was so dear to my heart,” Selby said. “My mother tried to look after her, but I decided to drop out so that I could come back home to help.”

But the staff at Delta State saw something in Selby. They allowed her to complete assignments at home.

“I made it out of my sophomore year there with the help of those good people,” she said.

But that upcoming fall semester, she was still undecided about what she wanted to do in life.

“I needed to drop out and find my way,” Selby said. “And I lived in the country where young people didn’t go work in a big city.”

But an opportunity came from Bentonia High School.

“I was terrified for an interview,” Selby said. “My mother went with me, and I was shaking like a leaf. They asked me if I knew short-hand and could work in an office. I didn’t burn the world up, but I could type.”

Selby was hired as a secretary. But the school staff needed a music teacher too.

The idea struck Selby since she had been teaching piano lessons to the children along Patterson Road since she was a teenager. Mary Ellen Patterson Keith was one of her first students.

“I grew up listening to the sounds of a piano coming from the house up the road when it was warm enough to throw open the windows and doors,” said Keith. “We knew when Flo was practicing, and I wanted to play just like her someday. In fact, I became her first piano student.”

Selby would begin teaching music at the school with about 15 students her first year.

“I absolutely loved the students,” Selby said. “I enjoyed it so much, I stayed another year.”

Selby returned to Delta State at that point with a full class load. While there, she joined a music program in Boyle, where she helped instruct about 600 students. Not only did she dive into music, she helped with plays.

While balancing the program and attending classes, Selby became motivated to become successful. She transferred to Mississippi College and made the daily commute in a second-hand Buick. She would earn her Bachelors in Music Education. She would eventually earn a Master’s degree in guidance and counseling. 

“I have always been a homebody, so I came back here,” Selby said. “I took my job back at Bentonia, and I started another Master’s program in administration. I think I have been in and out of school practically half of my adult life.”

Belinda Manor was a student of “Miss Hamel,” who she greatly admired and loved.

“Her love for music and for all of us children at Bentonia High School was amazing,” Manor said. “She has always had a way of making everyone feel special, capable and confident. She has helped many people find the joy of music and is a blessing in many lives. I can hear her sweet southern voice now.”

Johnny Manor was also a student of Selby’s at Bentonia. He said she was and always will be “the epitome of a true Southern belle.” Now a guitar player in band, Manor said Selby was the person who first pushed him to play publicly.

“She probably doesn’t remember this because she taught so many of us music at school, but she was putting together a school play at Bentonia and the very first time I ever played my guitar anywhere besides my bedroom with the door closed, was in that play,” he said. “’Hearts of Stone’ was the song. I remember that like it was yesterday.”

From Bentonia, Selby went onto to Main Street School in Yazoo City, where her mother was still teaching. A softball accident left her mother unable to teach music so Selby decided to give it a chance.

“It was a great honor to work with my mother,” Selby said. “I cherished it.”

When Main Street School closed, Selby joined the staff at Webster where she taught until 1990 when she retired…. the first time.

Two years later, she arrived at Manchester Academy.

After enduring heart surgery, Selby decided to officially retire in the late 1990s. It worked out because her husband Lamar was also retired, and they had a lot of camping to do.

But she never forgot her students.

“Miss Hamel still remembers me by name after teaching me music some 40 years ago,” said Jennifer Bowman. “She definitely had a heart for the students she taught.”

“If I had to do it all over again, you better believe I would do it,” Selby said. “That is what life is all about. It is about giving and being able to share love, especially with a child. You love a child first, then you teach them. If they know they are loved, they will do anything for you.”