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Carmichael remembered for service, charity

The death of Martha Cosby Carmichael at age 94 marks the end of a life devoted to family and community; a giving life that culminated in an act of kindness and faith that will be remembered and cherished for generations.

Carmichael was born and raised in Selma, graduated from what is now Selma High School before attending Lipscomb College and Peabody University in Nashville, Tenn. Although she had no brothers, her daughters described her as a “tomboy” who loved the outdoors, a renaissance woman of sorts before such a description existed for someone who lived a non-traditional life.

“She had lots of boy cousins she associated with, rode horses with,” said her daughter Shelby High. “She was an outdoors person, a hunter and I think she was one of the first people to ski on the (Alabama) river.”

Before marrying H. Kendrick Carmichael in 1942, Martha used the physical education degree she’d earned to teach physical education in Gordo before becoming involved in a New Deal era program called Works Project Administration in Sylacauga, which in 1938 helped establish what was then the largest public library in the state.

Martha and Ken returned to Selma after WWII and raised their five children, Shelby, Cosby, James, Judith and Martha Jean where she quickly became known for her business acumen, community service and unbending faith and integrity.

“Mother was such a woman of integrity and didn’t compromise her beliefs,” Shelby said. “People respected her for that in her business and her personal dealings.”

As co-owner of Cosby – Carmichael, Inc. and Cosby Rental, Martha became interested in restoring many of Selma’s historic homes. By 1981 she was working on her fourth restoration, a house at 500 Tremont St.

“It had been condemned for 18 months when I bought it,” said Martha in a 1981 Selma Times-Journal story about the home’s restoration. “There was a tree growing right up through the porch and both chimneys had fallen in on themselves.”

Martha didn’t have to travel far for one of her first restorations, actually just a few feet when she purchased what became known as the “The House Next Door Antiques,” at 213 Lapsley St. She and friends Pat Morrow and Myrna Morrow helped restore the now 142-year-old home, where her son Cosby and his wife Marsha now live.

“She was one of the first to begin restoring houses and assisted others in restorations,” daughter Judith said. “She believed in doing it right, even if it meant extra work.”

Although she enjoyed restorations, one of her main passions was the Girl Scouts. She held all leadership positions in the South Central Alabama Girl Scouts and was a member of the Alabama Girl Scout board of directors.

Martha grew up during Paul Grist’s tenure at the YMCA where she learned what such an organization meant to a community and its residents. She carried that into her work with the Girl Scouts, making sure her girls plowed the same ground as their counterparts.

“Whatever the Boy Scouts could do the Girl Scouts could do right behind them,” said Judith, recalling the many camping trips and outdoor activities her mother helped coordinate. In 1968 Martha was awarded the “Thanks Badge,” which according to the Girl Scouts website “Is given only once to recognize exceptional service that benefits the total council or the entire Girl Scout movement.”

Throughout it all, Martha leaned heavily on her faith in God to guide her in her business and personal dealings.

“The character of Christ really showed through her,” Shelby said of Martha, who was a member of Houston Park Church of Christ. “She would help people if they were in a bad way. There was just a giving heart in her.”

Martha’s giving heart was further witnessed by her fundraising for what was then known as Alabama Christian College, now Faulkner University, where she served on the board of directors and was honored for her contributions by having a boardroom named for her. Martha also endowed a scholarship to the University in her family’s name.

Her final act of giving and generosity, though, may be her most profound.

“Her last act was to donate her brain to Alzheimer’s research,” Judith said. “Her grandmother had (Alzheimer’s) and she recognized symptoms in herself she’d seen in her grandmother. She knew it is hereditary so she wanted to do whatever she could to possibly help her family and others.”

In addition to her five children, Martha Cosby Carmichael is survived by her twelve grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Memorials to Martha Carmichael’s life may be made to Houston Park Church of Christ, the Cosby and Carmichael Endowed Scholarship, Faulkner University, 5345 Atlanta Hwy., Montgomery, AL 36193 or Alzheimer’s Research UAB, Dept. Neurology, 1720 7th Ave. S., sc339, Birmingham, AL 35294.

For Carmichael’s full obituary see page 5A.
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