Thelma Lawson Haley, currently of Catrons Creek, is an educator, artist and published author who spends much of her time working to better the community.
Haley grew up in Wallins, going on to spend 25 years as a school teacher at Harlan Independent Schools and six years as principal at Cumberland elementary. Retired for almost 10 years, Haley has pursued a variety of activities since leaving the education profession.
“In those 10 years I’ve done a lot of things that I didn’t think I’d do, and have loved every minute of it,” said Haley.
Among other activities, Haley co-authored a book with her friend Darla Jackson. Their book, “Mystical Mountains,” includes history of Appalachia and Harlan, ghost stories, creature stories, tales of faith healing and other such aspects of life in the mountains. The book also contains a selection of Victorian-era post-mortem photos, which turned out to be one of the most popular aspects.
“It’s an odd book,” said Haley. “It kind of summarizes some of the things we are here in the mountains.”
Haley explained that post-mortem photos featuring the deceased in life-like poses — while less so today — were a common sight in the Victorian period.
“I have a collection of vintage photos, some of which are post-mortem photos, that’s what got us started on this,” said Haley. “Next thing I know, she’s talking about us really writing a book.”
Haley said Jackson was instrumental in getting her involved with writing the book.
“She told me I could write and I believed her,” Haley said jokingly.
Haley also works as president of the Harlan County Homemaker’s Book Club, an organization that among other things provides children and grown-ups alike with free books via book giveaways. The club schedules these whenever possible, depending on availability of books.
“It started with my desire to get books into the hands of children that couldn’t afford them,” said Haley. “We have that every Christmas…we give them a book bag and they can have as many books as they want.”
Haley said the books come from donations of either books or money for the purchase of new books.
The club’s next book giveaway for adults will be on Sept. 8 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The children’s book giveaway is scheduled from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Dec. 4. Both give ways will be at the Harlan Depot.
Haley also works with the Harlan County Extension Office where she formerly served as a board member, is on the 4H Council and the Homemaker’s Council and serves as vice-president of the Harlan County Homemaker’s Scrapbooking Club.
Although she stays busy, Haley says there are things she misses about teaching.
“I love teaching, and I still miss the children,” said Haley. “Because sometimes we have the odds against us here in the mountains…But if we can encourage those children to get an education, to read, to better themselves, then I’ve done a good job.”
Joe P. Asher may be reached at 606-573-4510, ext. 1161 or on Twitter #joe_hde