By Denise Rumbaugh | Staff Writer
The late Selma Cheeley was an icon in Buford and has left a lasting legacy through her commitment to improving her community and helping others.
Selma was born Sept. 2, 1932, with her twin sister Millie to Robert David and Selma McDonald Medlock of Norcross. From an early age, Selma was instilled with a sense of responsibility to help others. Little did she know that she would have a major impact on the community of Buford.
Selma graduated from Norcross High School and then went on to graduate from Georgia State in 1954 with a degree in business.
Selma was not one to idly sit by. She was very involved with her family and her community. She touched the lives of anyone she met and was described as loyal, faithful, a loving friend and dedicated community member by those who knew her.
“As a child, I never saw her angry, frustrated or anything but content as she managed five children and her household with a revolving door of friends,” family friend Judy Brackett says. “It wasn’t unusual to find her feeding cows while wearing her pearls. I believed she woke up with perfect hair, the ability to easily whip up amazing meals for her family of seven while listening to one child read and another ask a thousand questions about long division. She had the class of Jackie O, the desire to bring equality like Rosa Parks, the gentleness and humility of Princess Di, the maternal instincts of Grandma Walton and the bravery of the Crocodile Hunter.”
Selma carried a sense of duty with her throughout her life. In 1952, she married attorney Joseph E. Cheeley Jr. Christian values were at the forefront in all of Selma’s pursuits. She was a dedicated member of her church, Buford First United Methodist, where she taught Sunday school.
“She lived by the golden rule and always put everyone else first. She treated everyone with dignity and respect regardless of who they were,” her son Jim recalls. “She always did it with a smile on her face. Truly remarkable.”
While working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Selma also helped her husband start his law firm on Main Street in Buford.
“She would take all of us to the office after work and supper to help dad with his bookkeeping,” her daughter Susan recalls. “We would sleep on the floors, while they squeezed every hour out of the day. Dad’s office is now the kitchen at Bare Bones! My mom then helped my brothers with their law practices.”
As a conservationist, Selma was president of the Georgia Garden Club in the early 1970s and helped launch a statewide “Plant a Tree Day.”
“My favorite memory is Mom’s love of gardenia blooms,” her son Bob says. “She always had these in vases and every time I smell the fragrance I think of her. Her love of gardening, flowering trees, shrubs and bulbs brightened everyone’s world.”
“I also remember the mint bush she had next to the garage that we would use for our tea,” Selma’s son Jim says. “I always think of Mom when I smell or see mint on a table or drink.”
Perhaps Selma’s most lasting legacy before her election to Buford’s school board in the early 1970s was that she helped lead the peaceful integration of the city’s schools a full year before federal mandates. She also often delivered meals and clothing to Buford families in need and those who were homebound. She could be found cooking meals at the church and the Kiwanis Club and served two terms as president of the Buford Women’s Club. She also served on the Gwinnett County Library Board.
Selma’s impact on her community was immeasurable. She touched the lives of countless people through her work, her involvement in local organizations and her dedication to her family. Her legacy serves as a reminder of the importance of giving back to those around us and of the profound impact that a single person can have on their community.