Column by Meg Hibbert
Frances Stebbins was born to write. And she did so, starting at an early age and continuing until two weeks before she died on Sept. 21 at age 94. Frances told me once she preferred the word “died,” not passed on or other euphemisms. She was a private person and probably wouldn’t want me writing this column about her, but she deserves special mention.
Frances was known for her hundreds of religion columns published weekly in the Salem Times-Register and monthly in the Senior News publication. In the last year, she switched from weekly STR columns to monthly remembrances of her early years growing as the only child of a widowed mother in the country near Culpeper.
Frances was one of my biggest cheerleaders, praising my continued coverage of Salem City Council after I retired as editor of the STR after 15 years.
So many people know Frances, either personally or through her writing, playing violin at the Virginia Veterans Care Center with Jim Arnold and other nursing facilities, and singing in the choir of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Salem. St. Paul’s is where her memorial service will be this Saturday at 11 a.m. I’m sure there will be a crowd. She told me in her last weeks she had the hymns picked out for her service, and was just waiting. “I’m ready to go.” We should all be so prepared.
After I published Frances’ death on my Facebook page, more than three dozen people wrote back. First United Methodist Church Pastor Aan Combs recalled her interviewing him when he started there. “I recently quoted her in a sermon because she said I had a ‘neat ponytail and a grave demeanor.’”
Like many others, former STR advertising representative Debbie Huffman Bass described Frances as sweet. “I can see her and Charlie walking in the front door,” she said.
It was Charlie, Frances’ husband, whom I met first 23 years ago. At the time he was covering Salem City Council, and I took my cues from him when he gave that up.
Former Fincastle Herald writer Anita Firebaugh recalled Charlie was one of her first mentors when she was stringing for The Roanoke Times. Both Frances and Charlie wrote for the Times years ago, as well as the World News.
Former Salem newspaper publisher Connie Brockenbrough-Vaughn remembered “Frances was a joy was a joy and a wealthy of information on so many churches in the area. She was dedicated and old school in the best of ways.”
Dan Smith, who worked at The Roanoke Times at the same time for 10 years paid Frances a high compliment. “She and her husband were perfectly paired. We need more people like them covering the local news these days.”
And so we do. Frances was the end of an era in many ways. Well done, good and faithful servant.