Birth Date: 03/31/1927
Deceased Date: 04/27/2021
Kathleen Starling Hinnant
(March 31, 1927 – April 27, 2021)
Kathleen Starling Hinnant was born on March 31, 1927 on a farm just outside Selma, NC and remained a lifelong resident of the town. She was the seventh child of eight born to Walter and Chloe Ann Hodge Starling. She attended the Selma School and in high school wrote a column for the school newspaper, The Yellow Jacket. As World War II began, she also served as a Civil Air Patrol spotter reporting from a tower that was built downtown, identifying planes that flew over the area. To make some money during that time, she clerked at one of the local businesses before she enrolled in Campbell College and later trained as a nurse at the Rex Hospital Nursing School.
After the war was over, on July 12, 1946 she married her high school sweetheart, Willard B. (Tom) Hinnant from Selma, who had served in the US Army in the European Theatre. During this time, they also joined the Selma Original Free Will Baptist Church and have been active in every phase of the ministry since then with Kathleen serving as church clerk, Sunday school teacher, Jr. Choir Leader, Choir member, Women’s Auxiliary President, and Vacation Bible School Chairman. As a member of the Western District Auxiliary for several decades, she was presented with a Lifetime Membership Award from the State Convention.
During the 1950’s, she had four children and began local and civic involvement. Kathleen assisted Melba Woodruff in arranging for the kindergarten children to perform annually at Shriner’s events, as well as serving as a Grade Parent and officer of the Selma PTA for 15 years. She was also a Brownie and Girl Scout Leader for 9 years.
In the early 1970’s, Kathleen was appointed to the Smithfield-Selma High School Advisory Council – the first woman selected. During that same period of time, she was selected as a Selma representative for the Johnston County TB Association where she served as recording secretary for 25 of the 40 years she was on the council. She also began to serve as a volunteer for the American Red Cross during the local blood drives. One of her favorite groups was the Selma Women’s Club where she served for more than 40 years in various capacities. She was awarded the Eva Marie Long, District 13 Award for Outstanding Club Woman of the Year in 1981 and was presented a Lifetime Membership Award by the NC Federated Woman’s Club for outstanding community service.
In 1980, Kathleen was invited to join the Friday Afternoon Book Club in Selma which continues today as the third oldest book club in North Carolina, celebrating their 120th year anniversary this year, having started in 1901. She served as president for several terms and continued in recent years as an honorary member. During this time, she also served as a member of the Johnston Community College Auditorium Board and as a member and organizer of the Down To Earth Garden Club in Selma. Many of the dogwood trees that continue to grace Selma were planted by this club.
In the midst of all her activities, Kathleen and Tom took time to see the world. They spent time in EVERY STATE in the US including Alaska and Hawaii. They especially loved going to Texas and California numerous times, even chartering a helicopter to fly over Alcatraz. They visited 5 continents and over 36 countries where they usually spent weeks at a time, including places like Great Britain, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Austria, France, Italy, Spain, Israel, Turkey, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. They have taken a barge down the Nile, a cruise to Nova Scotia, a water journey through the lock system of the Panama Canal, slept on grass mats in China, sailed on a junk and eaten soup made from water straight out of the China Sea. They loved Paris and have been there six times. But Kathleen always said that if she could go anywhere again, it would be to the Netherlands, to the Queen’s birthday party in early May – it was all about the tulips. As a member of President Carter’s Friendship Force, she also hosted families from other countries who were traveling here – a real adventure since these visitors rarely spoke English.
However, the great passions in Kathleen’s life were her family, her cooking, and her flowers. Even into her 90’s, she relished the weekends when everyone would show up for large family dinners featuring her famous chicken pastry (also a favorite at the church socials). Of course they also knew that Kathleen, ever the farm girl, would also have an array of vegetables that she had frozen in the summer along with a wide assortment of cakes, cookies, and pies for dessert. The children remember well the times Kathleen would leave the house early in the morning and return with hundreds of ears of corn she had pulled, ready for them to shuck, clean, blanch, cool, cut, and pack for the freezer. Of course, Kathleen was the cutter – according to her, this was an art form. Her recipes were so coveted that in the ‘80’s she published a 94 page cookbook with all her secrets, and over the next 30 years gave it as a wedding gift to all the girls (and boys) in the family who were getting married.
Anyone who has ever ridden by Kathleen’s home has also surely seen her famous flowers twelve months out of the year. Inside, visitors were always treated to seasonal custom arrangements she made and placed around the house. She even had a large glass sunroom added to the back of the house so she could have her own personal greenhouse in the winter for several of her large potted trees and flowers brought in from the yard as well as a twelve foot tree at Christmas. The expansive glass also allowed Kathleen to enjoy another one of her favorite hobbies – watching an array of songbirds and squirrels flock to her feeders located within feet of the sliding doors. In addition, she was an avid collector of the Orchid pattern of Heisey etched glass dinnerware (discontinued inn1957), as well as numerous sets of sterling silver flatware and trays, a number of different china patterns, dozens of large seasonal, cutwork, embroidered, and crocheted tablecloths (ever ready for an event), as well as over 100 marble and cloisonne eggs she collected on her travels.
A few years ago, the Town of Selma named Kathleen and her husband the Grand Marshals for the Railroad Days Parade, and two years ago they were honored by the Smithfield-Selma Chamber of Commerce as Distinguished Citizens of Johnston County, having been nominated from Selma. And even in the last three years, Kathleen served as an ad hoc member of the Selma Civic Center Restoration Committee with regard to the design of the portico and porches that were added to the front of the historic community building. She insisted that they be much larger but with the same design elements as the ones at the Selma Women’s Club which was also built around 1939. She approved the drawings, especially insisting on round not square columns, and was thrilled with the result.
On April 27, 2021 at 94 years of age, Kathleen passed away peacefully from natural causes in her sleep at her home in Selma. She is survived by her husband (the greatest love of her life and 74 years of marriage) Willard B. (Tom) Hinnant; Children, Ann Williams of Selma, Julie Jones (Jim) of Raleigh, Jane Hardy (Rick) of Wilson, and Will Hinnant (Margaret) of Smithfield, along with 7 grandchildren, 10 great grandchildren, and one sister, Joyce Ann Starling Brown of Smithfield.
The family also wishes to recognize and express a heartfelt thank you to Mrs. Willie Mae Richardson and Mr. King Godwin for decades of faithful work in helping Kathleen with all sorts of interior and exterior projects, and to Dr. Raghu Katuru of Smithfield, Dr. Benjamin Atkeson of Clayton, and Dr. Robert Smithson of Raleigh for years of outstanding and life-saving medical assistance.
A funeral service will be held at Selma Original Free Will Baptist Church on Friday, April 30 at 11 am with burial following at Selma Memorial Gardens. In lieu of flowers, the family respectfully requests that donations be made to Kathleen’s favorite charity, the Free Will Baptist Children’s Home, 7907 Buck Deans Rd, Middlesex, NC 27557, where she has continued to be a patron for many years.