Excerpts by Henry Lane Hull

In the 1940s and 1950s, New York party-giver Elsa Maxwell reputedly referred to herself as the “Hostess with the Mostest,” a title also claimed by Washington entertainer Perle Mesta. The term indicated that these ladies put on the best parties in their respective cities.

In any competition to designate a worthy recipient of that title here in the Northern Neck, a sure finalist, indeed if not the undisputed winner, would be Sally Conley. When one speaks of parties, those who know her think of Sally. She is naturally happy bringing people together, building community and making certain that everyone in her purview has a good time. 

Sally is a native of Phenix City, Alabama, who came to the Northern Neck through her marriage to George Conley. After their working careers in Philadelphia, they came to Heathsville, where they live on George’s ancestral land. 

Detail is important to each of them. When they set out to an event, be it attending church on Sunday or a social event at other times during the week, they are, to use a trite, but in this case accurate, expression, “dressed to the nines.” Sally likes bold colors and hats that make a statement. George is also the picture of sartorial elegance, in winter months always appearing in his homburg hat. They both like formality and know how to practice it.

After a recent church dinner that Sally co-hosted with Shirley Galo, I told her that she had outdone herself. She replied, “Yes, I did.” Coming from her, that statement said a lot. For the big soirees, Sally does not stop in the planning stage. 

She likes to do the cooking, arrange the flowers, wrap whatever gifts are to be distributed, and, of course, arrange the seating. Her idea of a successful party is at the conclusion of the event for everyone who attended to go away knowing everyone else who was present. Otherwise, she would see the function as having been incomplete.

Next Tuesday, Sally will become an octogenarian. After her birthday last year, she remarked, “I never wanted to live to be 80, that is, until I turned 79.” 

Happy Birthday, Sally! You resonate youth.

*****

Last Saturday, my Good Wife and I participated in another octogenarian’s celebration as Barbara Lee Brown also marked 80 years. Barbara lives at Rehoboth Church in a home she and her late husband, Sam, built nearly 50 years ago, after spending their early married life at Remo. The house is about a mile down Morattico Church Road from the historic church that gives the road its name. 

Barbara’s children arranged for a drive-by birthday party that began with all the cars lining up on the church parking lot. At 2 p.m. Saturday the long procession began. Barbara in her finery was on her front porch, surrounded by decorations, waving to all the passersby, each of whom handed one of her children a greeting card or held up a sign, simultaneously honking away. In turn everyone received a packet of delicious homemade cookies stamped with the logo of Interstate 80 and a poster offering a reward of $80 grand for having her 80th birthday.

Barbara is a perfectionist in her personal appearance, as well as in that of her home and yard, a trait that carries over into her meticulous penmanship.  Appropriately, with respect to the honoree, the procedure ran like clockwork.  Kilmarnock Mayor Mae Umphlett was one of the many participants who turned out to share in the festivity. The ebullient celebration was a fitting tribute to Barbara’s lifetime of caring for others, and truly doing her utmost to make the world a better and happier place. 

Happy Birthday, Barbara! You too have found the secret of perpetual youth.