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Calling all friends and neighbors (for 30-plus years)

South Boston News
Mrs. Hite / December 21, 2017
More than simply a zip code or an incorporated town in the countryside, Virgilina is actually made up of eight distinct communities: North Fork, Aaron’s Creek, Hitesburg, High Hill, Omega, Midway, Shady Grove, Hyco, Mayo and Red Bank.

And Hannah Lois Murray Hite — nurse, confidant, community stalwart and chronicler of daily life long before Facebook was a thing — kept a loving eye on every corner of her beloved hometown.

The longtime newspaper correspondent who penned the Red Bank News for local newspapers died Dec. 13, at the age of 95. Her final piece to appear in print was the obituary she wrote on her life, which true to form, emphasized family, church and civic activities.

Her obituary made no mention of her sidelight as a community correspondent, once a vital platform for keeping people in faraway parts of Halifax County in touch with each other’s lives. The weekly reporting on the smallest doings of folks in places like Hunting Creek, Dryburg, Brooklyn Road, Ellis Creek and Republican Grove — a rundown of who enjoyed dinner with whom, who visited for a spell, and what the pastor had to say in his weekly sermon — was once a staple of local newspapers.

The Red Bank News was an apt outlet for Mrs. Hite’s keen mind. One of her pet peeves, recalled her daughter, Hannah Jean Hite McGregor, was the television. She had one, but she apparently did not allow anyone to turn it on. She liked to read and suggested that anyone who wants to keep sharp should read, too.

Hite’s love for her community is what inspired her to write the Red Bank News for more than 30 years. She collected information for her report by making personal phone calls to everyone in Red Bank each week.

This passion for writing about the goings-on of her neighbors was something of a paradox, given that Mrs. Hite was a very private person. She did not want or like anyone knowing her business, said McGregor, even as she reported on the affairs of everyone else in the area.

Perhaps the greatest testament to her body of writings is the fact that no one seemed to mind the publicity that Mrs. Hite brought to Red Bank and its denizens.

In fact, asked for their thoughts on Mrs. Hite, family and friends expressed a shared admiration for her devotion to loved ones and neighbors, her dedication as a nurse, and her involvement in her church.

“She wanted to do everything for everyone,” said Lottie Sue Nunn, the former county supervisor from Virgilina and Mrs. Hite’s best friend. In particular, she loved her work as a nurse and the ability to make a difference for so many people, Nunn said.

Her first cousin Ralph Murray remembers how Mrs. Hite gave him a required weekly injection for an entire year as he recovered from a kidney problem. Nunn recalled how she nursed her invalid mother for many years, treating her “like a China doll."

One night, Nunn said, she and Mrs. Hite sat up with a sick neighbor all night long. Nunn was not used to an all-nighter, so Mrs. Hite kept up a steady stream of chatter to help her get through the vigil. And when Nunn’s mother died, Mrs. Hite was there with a shoulder to cry on.

McGregor said she had more than a typical parent/child relationship with her mother; they were best friends. McGregor fondly recalls shopping trips, visiting friends and family, church events, and just hanging out talking. McGregor was adopted when she was 5 years old — the only child of Hannah and Henry Hite — and she still remembers the stuffed bear that her parents brought with them when they met her the first time.

Life in the Hite household was warm and loving: every Sunday, the family would visit the Murrays — Hannah Hite’s parents — for dinner and family conversation. Everyone brought a covered dish; Mrs. Hite had a special talent for mac and cheese, deviled eggs, and jello salad, said her daughter.

Amid family life and her weekly phone calls to keep tabs on happenings in the community, Mrs. Hite found other ways to make an impact.

She belonged to American Legion Post 337 Ladies Auxiliary for almost 69 years, attending meetings with Nunn and two other close friends, Fannie Mae Tuck and Louise Jaloway. Twice a year they placed flags on the graves of veterans, and at each grave, Mrs. Hite would relate a funny story about the man or his family. They also wrapped and delivered Christmas presents to the living veterans in the area.

Nunn and Hite also belonged to the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic group for both men and women. Their purpose aligned perfectly with Mrs. Hite’s — to help anyone in need. Hite was buried wearing her Eastern Star ring.

Some might find it hard to believe that Hite had any free time for herself based on the time she gave to many civic and community organizations. But she did, and the one thing she loved most was country music and dancing. Almost every Saturday night, she and her husband Henry, after having dinner at the Crestview restaurant on Route 58, would head over to the “T-Bird,” a country music dance hall near Danville.

When not kicking up their heels on a Saturday night, Hannah and Henry might be found at the American Legion hall in Virgilina (no longer there), where they served as chaperones for a “young folk” dance.

It is not a far stretch to say that Hannah Lois Murray Hite was a bit of a fashion plate. Her daughter and friends confirmed that outside of country dancing, one of Hite’s favorite pastimes was shopping, especially for shoes.

McGregor recalls that her mother loved bright striking colors like purples and reds, and dressing up with matching shoes and jewelry. Nunn talked about an Eastern Star event where Hite wore a mink stole and Nunn wore a poncho.

Not everything Hite was passionate about involved humanitarian acts. She was also ardent about weather. She listened to a radio station regularly for news and weather. If she wanted a quick forecast, she called Nunn.

Hite knew that, like so many in Virgilina, Nunn owned a police scanner, so that when she heard any kind of siren, all it took was a call to her close friend to find out the cause of the commotion.

It is hard to imagine friends much closer than Hite and Nunn, and not just because they lived in adjoining farms. Nunn, 20 years younger than Hite, looked up to Hite as a mentor: “I could ask her anything, anything at all, and she always seemed to give just the right advice,” said Nunn. “She knew everything about everybody and I have no one in my life that can take her place.”

They talked every day, sometimes twice a day, and it did not take much for them to enjoy each other’s company and just have fun.

Nunn is not the only one feeling lost with Hite gone. McGregor feels like she not only lost a mother, but a best friend.

Mrs. Hite had a reputation for being to the point and speaking her mind. If you knew her, you knew that she had the ability to make a bark sound like a meow. McGregor thinks it was her training as a psychology major that allowed her to be forthright and diplomatic.

She did not get mad often, unless you touched her personal papers or threw out something that could be repurposed or used again. Take leftovers, for example: If you dared throw any food out, she would have a fit, McGregor explained. She washed and reused plastic bags and foil when possible, and saved soap bits to use for hand washing. She did not think much of the washer and dryer, either — “too much water and electricity wasted,” she would say.

And yes, Hite did write her own obituary, a year, or so before she died. She also planned her funeral exactly how she wanted it. She told her friend Louise Jaloway that she wanted red roses on her casket. Jaloway replied, “You’re not even going to know if they are there are not,” to which Hite replied, “Oh yeah, I’ll know!”

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