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A happy birthday to ‘GrandMatta’

POSTED: December 26, 2013 5:36 p.m.
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Mattie Lou Campbell Hinely

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Had she survived, my grandmother Mattie Lou Campbell Hinely would have been 107 years old on New Years Day. We called her “GrandMatta,” as that is what Norman Turner named her. She kept Norman and me for our parents to attend my Grandfather Exley’s funeral in December 1954, and he decided that is what she should be called and the name stuck.


Mattie Lou, the oldest of four children, was born in Chattooga County, 13 miles north of Rome on Jan. 1, 1907. Her parents were “Ellie” Scoggin Campbell and William Campbell.


Mattie Lou entered public school in Powder Springs in 1911 when she was just 4 years old. After completing the ninth grade, she attended and graduated from Summerville High School in 1922. She entered Tift College in Forsyth, from which, after attending summer school at Emory, she received an AB degree in 1925. Four years of teaching at McDonough, Rockmart and Springfield followed.  From June 1929 through January 1932, she was a representative of Frontier Press, working in North Carolina, Illinois, Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia.


On Sept. 2, 1931, Mattie Lou was married in Atlanta to J. Bruce Hinely. She met Bruce while teaching in Springfield and attending the Baptist church. After marriage, they lived with Bruce’s mother, and he became owner and operator of the farm near Springfield on which his ancestors had settled just after the Revolutionary War.


They had one daughter, my mother, Ellen Hinely Exley, who is the wife of Arthur H. Exley. My brother David Exley and I are her only grandchildren. Ellen had a little brother John, who was born and died on July 3, 1941.


From October 1933-August 1937, Mattie Lou was teacher of adults, case aid and supervisor of Women’s and Professional Work Projects in Effingham County and National Youth Administrative Training and Work Projects. From September 1937-March 1953, she was director of the Effingham County Department of Public Welfare.


She was director of Madison County Department of Public Welfare from April through June 1953.  Her last employment, from July 1953-September 1968, was with the Chatham County Department of Public Welfare, later known as DFCS, as case worker supervisor. She retired after 35 years of service with the state. She covered many miles in those years, from sandy roads where her car stalled on very hot days to less-desirable neighborhoods in the city.


Mattie Lou and husband Bruce were members of Springfield Baptist Church (now First Baptist Church of Springfield). She became a Baptist in 1918 and taught Sunday school from age 15 until she was no longer able. Mattie Lou also held offices in Training Union and WMS. She did research for the history of Springfield Baptist Church.


Her community interests have included PTA (of which she wrote a history), Health Councils, Red Cross, Cancer Society, Georgia Conference on Social Welfare, Senior Citizens and Chatham County Association of Social Services.


My memories of “GrandMatta,” as she was affectionately known, include spending Saturdays with her and my Granddaddy Bruce. Granddaddy always called her “Sweetheart” that he said fast as if one syllable. She prepared good vegetables and meat, usually using pressure cookers but had little time to do much baking. GrandMatta canned vegetables and preserved the things in the garden.


My brother David would make instant chocolate pudding, and I would make box mix blueberry muffins every Saturday. We accompanied her to the laundromat to wash clothes. She did not have a washing machine at home until I was in high school.


During wash time, we went to the drugstore and soda fountain and often to the department store. I recall visits to people in need where she quietly provided new clothing for a poor struggling widow rearing many children. She took me to see “shut-ins” and some of these people made an impression upon me.


My grandmother encouraged me to write essays for the United Daughters of the Confederacy essay contests each year. I won many competitions. Her instruction and explanation of how to conduct research, has carried me thorough high school, college and to writing for this paper today.


Always a proper lady with precise manners, Mattie Lou had snow white hair at an early age. She was a great role model encouraging me to become a lady.  Her desire to help others was a ministry and a vocation. Her own life was lived frugally, perhaps resulting from living through the Great Depression and having little during parts of her life.


One example of this was her saving all paper that had a clean side or a used envelope with a clean back. The notes from the history of the Baptist church, written in her later years, were recorded on these odd-shaped slips of salvaged paper. I too find myself doing telephone interviews using the back of envelopes to record facts and my desk is strewn with odd bits of various colors of recycled paper with notes on them.


Mattie Lou had diabetes and lost parts of her toes and foot, ultimately resulting in amputation of one leg. As her health deteriorated, her last years were spent in the Effingham County Nursing Home.


She died on May 3, 1985, and was buried beside Granddaddy Bruce in the Union Cemetery (aka Kieffer Cemetery) in Springfield.


I have the privilege of living in Granddaddy Bruce and GrandMatta’s 1941 house on the family farm. She had a profound influence on my life and I miss her.


This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: susanexley@historiceffinghamsociety.org.

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