“Everybody around town knew her.”
“She had a great sense of humor and was a great storyteller, showing up in the morning with a new tale to tell.”
“She was dedicated. Everybody loved her.”
“Nobody could say a harmful word about her.”
So flowed some remarks about longtime News Messenger sales representative and general manager Shelby Roope, who died last Monday, Jan. 13. She was 82.
Delivering those words of praise were Roope co-workers Lena Duncan, Ann Sinderman and Jane Durrett along with Wayne Brockenbrough, former owner of the News Messenger. They gathered briefly at the newspaper offices Monday to talk over some old times that were good times.
Roope worked at the Messenger for some 30 years. She started as the office manager, but sales rep Jane Durrett, who was so close to Roope that she was listed in the obituary program as “Best Friend,” realized early on that Roope’s talents were being wasted cooped up behind a counter.
So she talked to general manager Bill Hall and told him that with her outgoing personality, Roope was a natural for advertising. That afternoon, News Messenger owner Wayne Brockenbrough called the two women who would be inseparable until Roope’s death and paired them in ad sales. Decades later, Brockenbrough still said “one of the best moves [he] ever made was putting those two girls together. They did an excellent job.”
Roope and Durrett teamed with sales rep Ann Sinderman over the decades to win quite literally hundreds of advertising awards at the Virginia Press Association’s annual gathering. Some years they won as many as 40 awards and would sweep entire categories.
Back in those relatively primitive days long before the convenience and speed of computers, selling an ad was usually the easy part. Roope, Durrett and Sinderman then had to go what was a quite painful and lengthy process of composing the ad.
Durrett remembered Roope as always being prepared. Once the duo made the trip to an ad conference in Washington, D.C. This was a black-tie affair, definitely dressy. When Durrett unpacked her bags, she discovered her garment bag with her elegant dresses wasn’t there. She called home to learn the truth of what she suspected: that bag with those formal dresses was handing on her door at home.
Not to worry. The ever-ready Shelby Roope always overpacked, prepared for any emergency. She simply loaned Durrett one the several dresses she had packed. That night, Durrett received compliment after compliment on her beautiful dress. “I gave Shelby the credit,” she said. “She kept me in clothes for the whole weekend.”
Back in those days, everybody at the office did what was needed, and Roope was the original multi-tasker, always pitching in and eventually becoming so knowledgeable about the business that she was made its general manager.
Music was among Roope’s passions. She was a record collector who over the years built up a big collection of vinyl. She eventually sold them all to another collector before her death.
Golf was a passion she shared with her husband, Jim, and with, of course, Durrette. The Roopes joined the now-defunct Round Meadow Country Club and were very active. Playing as often as they could together and with other club members, both Durrett and Shelby were more than fair golfers, consistently shooting in the mid-80s.
A true Renaissance woman, Roope was an avid reader, always keeping one or two books going at the same time. She was also an avid bridge player, belonging to a local bridge club for years.
Durrett also described her best friend as “dedicated.” Roope once had surgery on her vocal cords, which, of course, put an ad salesperson at a distinct disadvantage. But Roope showed u for work long before her voice had healed and wrote down everything she wanted to say, including her pitch to her customers.
The News Messenger family was a real close-knit family in those days. They always shared gifts on special occasions such as birthdays. Lena Duncan, who handled classified ads for the newspaper for some 24 years, recalled that the always-generous Roope once gave her a flower for her desk. It was artificial but was so pretty that Duncan thought it was real and watered it. She said Shelby really got a kick out of that.
Shelby and her husband were beach lovers, but most of all she loved her family. She loaded her home with photographs of her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandkids. Anywhere in her house a picture could so, there would be a child’s photo there.
The Roopes were active members of St. Paul United Methodist Church. As her health declined, Shelby said that she missed going to church most of all. She had a special way with children, often giving the children’s message. Almost invariably, the children would hug her when she finished.
Durrett realized things had changed last March when she took a new puppy over to the car to show Shelby. To Durrett’s surprise, she asked her lifelong best friend, “Who are you?” Later with a phone call, Roope’s daughter, Kimberly Brumfield, verified what Durrett suspected: her mother was losing her memory.
After that, Durrett made herself a vow and she kept it. She visited Roope every Wednesday, changing the days only when Shelby had a doctor’s appointment. Durrett kept those appointments faithfully until Roope died. Her last visit she took her manicure set and did Roope’s nails. She often, too, brought her makeup kit along. She kept Roope in fresh flowers all summer. She would spend four or five hours each week, seeing that as a time to give Kimberly a break and a chance to get out of the house.
Shelby Roope was a special person. Just ask those people who knew her the best, those folks who worked with her every day for decades.