Marjorie Selvage Stone, 97, of Athens, concluded her long and eventful life on Jan. 11, 2023, at The Laurels of Athens, after an extended period of declining health.
What a life it was!
Marj was born in 1925 in Rocky Mount, Virginia. She was the daughter of the late Donald Hollis Selvage, Sr. and Ella Davis Selvage of Amherst, Virginia, and was descended from families who were among the first settlers of southwest Virginia and Kentucky.
As a little girl, Marj witnessed a parade that included Confederate veterans. She lived to use email, and to own stock in Facebook, although she wanted no part of being on Facebook.
In between those mileposts, she survived the Great Depression, graduated from college, went to work, married, raised three sons, lived in two foreign countries, became a working historian, founded a museum, and published two books.
After graduating from Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1948, Marj was hired as publicity director for the Duke University Press in Durham, North Carolina. There, her job brought her into a social circle that included Duke University English professor Edward Stone. Marj and Ed were married in 1951.
After living in Atlanta, Georgia and Charlottesville, Virginia, where Ed Stone held teaching positions, the Stones moved to Athens in 1956, when Professor Stone was recruited by then-Ohio University President John C. Baker to chair the university’s English Department.
Soon after arriving in Athens, Marj, along with the late Carole Spring, started the Athens Co-Operative Nursery, which operated for more than 30 years. Marj was an active member of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd for a number of years, and was president of the Sheltering Arms Hospital Guild when it became the Guild of O’Bleness Memorial Hospital, at the time of the hospital’s move and name change.
Marj and Ed Stone were among the parents who formed the group Citizens for Better Schools, to work for improvement of the quality of education in the Athens City School District at the time of consolidation.
In 1966, Ed Stone was granted a Fulbright Professorship to teach at the University of Mexico. The Stones lived for most of that year in Mexico City.
In 1968, Ed Stone received another Fulbright Professorship, this time to teach in Buenos Aires. The Stones lived for part of that year in Argentina and traveled extensively in South America.
Later, when reflecting upon her travels, Marj realized that she knew more about Mexico than she did about her adoptive home of Athens. It was then that she began the exploration of the history of Athens County that would enliven much of the rest of her life.
She became a respected authority on the history of the region, gave numerous presentations, and led tours of the town and surrounding county, delivering commentaries with the Virginia accent that she never lost. She also wrote several outdoor dramas. In one of them, local thespians reenacted the arrival of Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan in Nelsonville.
Marj was a principal founder of the Athens County Historical Museum and was the museum’s first executive director. She was active in the Athens County Historical Society both before and after its merger with the Athens County Museum. The museum has since evolved into the Southeast Ohio History Center.
Marj was the author of the book As Time Goes By: A Pictorial Journal of Athens, Ohio, and, with Elizabeth Grover Beatty, of the book Getting to Know Athens County, which won the Ohio Association of Historical Societies and Museums Award of Excellence.
She was instrumental in saving the oldest extant house in Athens. Known as the “Bingham House,” the log home was moved in 1987 to its present location on Richland Avenue, where it houses offices and serves as a visitors’ center. Marj was also a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Marj loved elegance, style, and proper decorum. When the Stones were living in Mexico City, Marj and Ed were invited to a formal reception at the home of the American ambassador. Various international dignitaries and their spouses were also there. Afterward, Ed Stone called his sons together, and informed them that their mother had attracted more attention than any other woman at the gathering and had been the star of the event.
The caregivers who assisted Marj during her final years soon learned the difference between a salad fork and a dinner fork, and to never deploy a tablespoon when a soup spoon was in order.
And yet, as with many complex individuals, Marj’s personality included aspects that seemed paradoxical, if not contradictory.
She was a proud southerner who fell in love with a small university town in rural Ohio. A trained operatic soprano, she loved the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, especially when James Morris was singing the role of Wotan, but she also enjoyed watching Joe Burrow play football.
She was pleased to have met a number of celebrities from the world of the arts, including novelist William Styron (whom she dated briefly), poet Robert Frost, and historian David McCullough. She also, however, felt honored to have known survivors of the Millfield Mine Disaster.
Also in her personality, there remained wisps of the experience of growing up as a tomboy during the Great Depression with an adored older brother who was an avid outdoorsman and hunter. This aspect of her character led to some surprising incidents while her sons were growing up.
During part of the time that the Stones lived on Avon Place in Athens, the area behind their house was a large vacant field. The property was mowed from time to time, and afterward, children from the neighborhood would scour the field, looking for interesting things the mower might have turned up.
Once, the children found a snake that had been killed by the mowing machine. After establishing that the snake was indeed dead, the children had a problem: what to do with their prize? Finally, one of the boys in the group had a suggestion: “Let’s show it to Mrs. Stone.” The children then took the snake to the Stones’ house, where the elegance-loving Marj happily showed them how to skin it and preserve the hide.
Marj was also a good shot with both rifle and pistol.
In addition to her parents, Marj was preceded in death by husband Edward Stone, and brother Donald H. “Bill” Selvage, Jr.
She is survived by sons Edward S. (Ted) Stone and partner Barbara L. Stout, Glenn D. Stone and wife Priscilla, Rick A. Stone and fiancée Cheri Wischmann, granddaughter Abigail Stone, and grandson Jordan Stone.
Also left to cherish her in memory are her longtime, devoted housekeeper, Barbara Drake, and her many friends.
Members of the family will receive well wishers Thursday, Jan. 19, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Jagers and Sons Funeral Home in Athens. A funeral for Marj will be held on Saturday, Jan. 21, at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Amherst, Virginia. Marjorie Selvage Stone will be interred in the Selvage family cemetery plot in Amherst, Virginia.