Jim and Barbara Selman were married on a Wednesday evening in early June, nearly 63 years ago. He had graduated just the day before from the University of Florida, but since all their family and friends would be at the church anyway for the weekly prayer meeting, it didn’t make sense to wait for the weekend for the happy couple to say their vows.
And such a happy couple they were, filling the decades with love and kindness until a massive infection overtook her last week. Jim was by her side as doctors turned off the ventilator that had been keeping her alive.
Jim worked in the sports department of The Tampa Tribune, so he had to travel on many weekends and work most weeknights until midnight. That’s where I met him. And if you came to know Jim, knowing Barbara was just part of the deal. If there was a better couple in the world, I have never met them. Their life together was something to celebrate.
Barbara was gentle, but at the same she was a rock. He met her after finishing second to a guy for the affections of another young lady.
“A man in my church suggested I date her,” Jim said, so he asked the lovely Barbara Cantrell if she would like to go to a high school basketball game. She didn’t know the first thing about basketball, but she went anyway. Jim figured out one thing pretty quickly.
“I knew this was my girl,” he said.
If he wasn’t with her, he was thinking about her. Or talking about her.
They sang duets together at Lake Carroll Baptist Church in Carrollwood. He sang tenor and she was a soprano. She taught 4-year-olds in Sunday school. He arranged his schedule to have Wednesday and Sunday off so he could serve as music director at the church. He did that job for more than 20 years, but wouldn’t accept a dime of pay.
“He just didn’t feel it was right to take money for that,” said David Selman, one of Jim and Barbara’s four children – three sons, one daughter.
Jim covered Florida State University football and later became the Trib’s first beat writer for the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As a sports writer, particularly dealing with pro athletes, you have to develop a bit of an edge and an appreciation for how to use salty words.
Jim’s edge was generally hidden under layers of kindness, but every now and then you’d hear, “dadblast it.” You’d look over and he would be grumbling about something or other, but it usually passed quickly. Maybe it’s because he heard Barbara’s voice.
“Dad could be high-strung, but mom was such a calming influence on him,” David said. “She would always take up for the children if dad was upset. She’d just go, ‘Now, Jimmy …’”
That’s all it took.
David still has the image in his mind from a scene when one of them was in the hospital. One of them was in the bed, the other sitting close by in a chair.
They were holding hands.
Jim, who will turn 88 next month, and Barbara had recently moved into an assisted living home. David was there Sunday night, looking after his father, when he noticed something sticking out from under the bed. It was his mother’s shoes.
“That’s when it really hit me; she won’t be there to wear them any more,” he said. “That’s what I’m worried most about. Dad can’t stand being away from her.”
But she will be there, watching from above and reaching out to hold his hand. He will remember her smile and hear her say, “Now Jimmy …”
Jim will understand. His girl is telling him somehow it’s going to be OK, and she can’t wait to see him again.