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99¢ for the first month

Mama Sewell for the win

By Tim Croft
The Star

Every community needs at least one if not a dozen or more. 

Those folks with the genetic make-up that spurs them to service, to others, family, friends, those they have never met. 

Who set aside their problems to try to aid those of others.  

Who only ponder themselves after all others are okay. 

For me, one of those people is Marlene Sewell or as most everyone else knows her, Mama Sewell. 

And as we arrive at the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Michael and all that son-of-gun laid to waste, my hopes for the community’s future can be found in the indomitable spirit of Mama Sewell. 

We first met when she was working, alongside her daughter, Mary Lou Cumbie, in the front office at Port St. Joe High School. 

No one coming through that office did not greet Mama Sewell and not a one of them left without receiving back one of those smiles that lights rooms. 

I ended up doing several stories with her. 

One, involved sharing her kitchen renovation by the Christian Community Development Fund. 

The kitchen was glorious and allowed her the space to make her legendary 16-layer chocolate cake. 

A birthday cake is not a birthday cake next to that tower of chocolate and yellow cake. 

I came to think of it as something of the landmark, the tower of White City. 

So, one day, I spent an afternoon watching her craft one of those cakes and it turned out like a conversation with an old friend. 

Over the years, my wife and I have received many a delectable that came out of that kitchen.  

Later, I would write a story when Mary Lou moved to the district offices, separating mother and daughter at work for the first time in over a decade. 

Together, they are a hoot, finishing sentences, watching after each other, never a frown on either. 

And what I have come to realize is that a sometimes maddeningly sunniness of disposition (I am Eeyore) that Mary Lou carries through life was a direct inheritance from her mother. 

A gift really. 

As I often tell her when I see Mama Sewell, all I want to see is that smile, which with the pandemic has been impossible. 

So, I will feed off the vibes. 

The mother and daughter may be separated at work (Mama Sewell long ago retired) but if you see one in the community you see both. 

Hardly a wedding or funeral or ceremony is conducted without the presence of the two, singing hymns or the National Anthem or baking and cooking sustenance for a grieving family. 

They serve as something of a community balm. 

And, Mama Sewell, in her 70s and on this side of serious surgery a couple of years ago, maintains the same rosy, smiling healthy appearance that I will surely envy at that age. 

How her tiny frame holds that heart and soul is a mystery for science.

This woman can’t not smile, a light bulb that will not dim. 

And I consider the look of things when my wife and I first emerged that Wednesday afternoon in October 2018 from our shelter. 

The trees that blocked roads, the power loss, the water loss, the stormwater canals turned into rivers. 

My son-in-law and I tried a quick golf cart cruise of the city in hopes of reaching my house on 13th Street (we left from Garrison) and could not find safe passage due to the water and trees. 

We concluded that no way is this going to be an easy road back, particularly as we watched the caravan of utility trucks, law enforcement, National Guard and others sent to assist. 

Once the roads were clear enough for my wife and I to reach home, we found a catastrophe, the car on the front porch and our house in six inches or more of mud. 

Somehow, though, the water was back on later that day, we had power in about two weeks and we managed to survive. 

We did so with a huge assist from people such as Mama Sewell, who did not have to, had no responsibility to do so, but nonetheless reached out. 


So much of the progress that has been made in the past two years is due to people, in the community and beyond, who just cared. 

The Murphy Family Foundation, David Millican with Chik Fil A, a Boy Scout from Georgia and so many more.  

And, for me, that sums up Mama Sewell, a woman of simple means who just fundamentally cares about her fellow human beings. 

If Gulf County awarded a Nobel Prize for Peace, she’d win in a landslide. 

And as we arrive at the second anniversary of Hurricane MIchael, I will place my bets on the future and recovery on the likes of Mama Sewell.