MARTHA BRUMBY SHELDON
Martha Brumby Sheldon died Feb. 11, 2014, in Metairie, La., from a brief illness after a fall and a head injury. She was 98.
Martha was born in Franklin on May 2, 1915, to Robert Eldridge Brumby, originally from Marietta, Georgia, and Myrtle Palfrey Brumby. He was the founder of the Brumby, Aycock, Horne, Caldwell and Coleman law firm in Franklin. Martha was the eldest and the last to survive of their three daughters, who included Roberta Brumby Horne, also of Franklin, and Dorothy
Brumby Perkinson of Marietta, Georgia.
Martha attended elementary and high schools in Franklin, then spent time at Virginia Intermont College. She graduated from H. Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans in 1935 with a combined major in music and French. Her father had planned on a career for her of teaching French. But she was always proud of having evaded getting a teaching certificate, thus forcing him to allow her to open a private music school in Franklin instead.
Martha married Arnold Philip Wilking, a chemist with Shell Oil at Norco, in 1937 in the Franklin Methodist Church. They moved to St. Louis. The couple returned to Franklin after a few years and Arnold took over the management of the St. Mary Hardware Store. Their first child, Arnold Philip Wilking Jr., was born at 305 Main Street. When World War Two broke out, Arnold volunteered for the US Navy and was commissioned as an officer and assigned to inspect Navy fuel and oil supplies. The family was moved frequently by the Navy. Their second child, Myrtle Angele Wilking, was born in Houston. After the war, Martha and Arnold returned to Franklin. Arnold resumed management of the St. Mary Hardware Store where he remained until his retirement. Meanwhile, Martha was busy raising the first two children, and keeping up with her piano skills.
Ahead of her time, and wanting very much to be financially independent of the men in her life, Martha began commuting to Southwestern Louisiana Institute to make up some prerequisites that would allow her to apply to a graduate professional school.
In 1949 Martha moved the family to Metairie so she could take more classes. Arnold began working at Staubitz Hardware Store in New Orleans. The third child, Richard Bruce Wilking, was born in 1950 in New Orleans. Martha was overwhelmed by the demands of an infant, two older children, school, and a husband, so she took a little time out, moving back to Franklin temporarily, while Arnold resumed his position at the St. Mary Hardware Store. After she caught her second wind, she buckled down, returned to Metairie with the children, and entered the Tulane School of Social Work.
Martha graduated with a Masters of Social Work degree around 1955 and was immediately offered a job with the Juvenile Court that carried the rank of deputy sheriff. Her younger son remembers that she allowed him, then 6 years old, to play with her badge while watching Roy Rogers, but to his dismay, she refused to let him play with her service revolver. She often had to venture out alone at night, into unsavory neighborhoods, to deal with troubled clients, cockroaches and rats. She also had to drive around the State making house calls. She did not lack for bravery.
After she left Juvenile Hall, the job she talked about and seemed to enjoy the most was running the Presbyterian Home for Unwed Mothers, which she always referred to as “the baby nursery.” She loved matching the newborn infants with their adoptive families. One of her challenges was preventing the staff from cutting the hair of a Hindu baby boy before the family could hold the necessary religious ceremony.
At home she continued to maintain her performance-level piano skills.
Martha and Arnold eventually divorced, though they remained friendly, and she lived for a few years in Estes Park, Colorado, working for Larimer County as a social worker, while her youngest child attended high school.
She moved back to Franklin around 1972 to help care for her aged mother, Myrtle Palfrey Brumby, in the Gates House at 205 Main Street. While there she received a lifetime teaching certificate from the Louisiana Music Teachers Association. She also gave music lessons and helped promote classical music in the town.
After her mother retired to a home in Summerville, South Carolina, Martha lived briefly in New Orleans again, then Biloxi where she met Ross Sheldon, a retired Army officer from Huntsville, Alabama, at a Mensa Society meeting. They were married once, annulled once, and remarried in 1984. They remained together in Biloxi until Ross’s death in 1989. After Ross’s death, Martha tried out several retirement homes and communities, settling longest at Christwood in Covington, but she found them intellectually deadening.
She developed an interest in writing fiction and began attending courses at writers’ conferences. She went several years to the Iowa Summer Writers’ Festival in Iowa City, concentrating on short stories and poetry. She moved to her final home in Metairie to be near her elder son shortly after Katrina. Her grand piano moved right along with her. When her hearing failed and she could no longer play for an audience to her own satisfaction, she turned most of her energy into her writing, and had several stories published. In 2011 she received an award for outstanding poetry in a Mensa Magazine competition.
She is survived by her three children, two grandchildren, two great grandchildren, and numerous nieces, nephews, and cousins.
Private services will be held May 2 at 11 a.m. at First United Methodist Church in Franklin.