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LEXINGTON - Elsie Shealy, widow of Sen. Ryan Shealy, retired national sales executive, motivational speaker and a former South Carolina Mother of the Year, died Tuesday, just a few days before her 94th birthday.
Born Elsie Elizabeth Porth on August 16, 1925, she was the fifth child of Oliver Martin Luther Porth and Lula Ida Mae Leaphart Porth of Lexington. Elsie was a graduate of Lexington High School and of Columbia College, where she double-majored in math and French. Immediately upon graduation, she was offered a job teaching at the college level but chose instead to teach high school students. It was during her teaching days at Batesburg-Leesville High School that she had a student who was finishing high school after serving in the Navy during World War II. His name was Ryan Shealy. They were married June 15, 1947. Although she continued her teaching career, Elsie was recruited by Field Enterprises (parent company of World Book Encyclopedia) to go into sales. Because of her firm belief in the importance of books in the home and in reading to young children, she excelled in sales and eventually left teaching to pursue that career full time. With World Book, Elsie won national sales awards as well as national recognition for her ability to hire, train and build sales teams. Eventually, after several promotions, she became the only female vice president of the company and had one-fourth of the United States under her leadership. Once she retired, the company kept her on in a consultant capacity to make motivational speeches throughout the United States and in faraway places, including Ireland and Fiji.
Even with her full-time work, she was also somewhat of a "matriarch" of a political family that included husband, Sen. Ryan C. Shealy, daughter Sen. Sherry Shealy Martschink, son and political consultant Rod Shealy, brother Rep. Lucius Porth, nephew Rep. Larry Koon, grandson and political consultant R. J. Shealy and cousin Sen. Nikki Setzler. Ryan and Elsie were members of the Round Hill Community Club and then founding members of Lake Murray Community Club. Together they also organized the Lexington County Field Day and the Miss Lexington County pageant. For many years, Elsie was the "sack race" champion at Field Day, a record she relished. Elsie served on the Board of Visitors of Columbia College. Elsie was baptized, confirmed and married at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Lexington and was an active member there. She was a long-time choir member and Sunday School teacher. She headed the capital campaign committee for the Parish Life Center and served on several other committees. She and Ryan were members of "The Singing Group," friends who gathered once a month for over 50 years to sing old-time hymns. This was an activity both cherished. Into her 80s, she continued to make appearances in dance recitals for daughter Christy's schools. She even performed a rap number at a granddaughter's wedding rehearsal dinner. In the 1970s, she was an "imposter" on To Tell the Truth. Elsie loved to entertain casually at home; she enjoyed playing Scrabble, cards, board games, singing, working crossword puzzles and just having friends and family around. She was active in autism awareness efforts.
Her survivors include four children: Sherry Martschink (Karl Duppstadt) of Summerville; Christy Mills (Glen), Prosperity; S. Shawn Shealy Sr., Columbia; and Lorri Unumb (Dan) of Lexington. Grandchildren are Tiffany Martschink, Tree Martschink, Mandy Brantley (Adam), RJ Shealy, Ross Shealy (Carla), Laney Mills, Matthew Mills, Andrew Mills (Celeste), Zanna Mills, Kendall Shealy, Spencer Shealy Jr., Ryan Unumb, Christopher Unumb, and Jonathan Unumb. Great-grandchildren are Nina and Redding Shealy; Harrison and Fisher Brantley; and Ethan and Luke Shealy. She is also survived by Becky Beheler Shealy and Pat Love Shealy as well as numerous nephews, nieces and cousins, and many friends, including two special friends, Penni Henry and Marsha Crane. Other than her parents and husband, she was predeceased by one son, Rod Shealy, and siblings and spouses: Mavis and William J. Monts; Boice and Mary Alice Porth; Lucius and Edna Porth; and Jennie Bruce and Rev. Carl B. "Bunk" Koon; and her mother-in-law, Una Lee Fink Shealy.
A celebration of Elsie's life will be at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Lexington at 4:00 pm on Sunday, August 11th, with arrangements by Barr-Price Funeral Home, Lexington. Visitation will be in the St. Peter's Lutheran Church Parish Life Center following the service. Memorial may be made to St. Peter's Lutheran Church, 1130 St. Peter's Church Road, Lexington, SC 29072, or to the Autism Academy of South Carolina, PO Box 7514, Columbia, SC 29202. The family wishes to express gratitude to all of Elsie's caregivers, especially those at Still Hopes and Heartstrings Hospice.