Uncompromisingly nice Betty Hickman was human sunshine

Betty Hickman, front center, stands with her coworkers at Doughty’s Market in 2019: from left, Louise Coles, Terry Ayres, Vonda Doughty, and Jeff Doughty.

By TED SHOCKLEY, Eastern Shore Post

Many years ago I noticed the short lady behind the counter at Doughty’s Market in Melfa was extraordinarily nice to me every time I visited.

I just figured she took a shine to me. Perhaps it was my stunning good looks and handsome smile, I wondered.

But I quickly found out Betty Hickman treated everyone like her best friend. It had nothing to do with my looks or smile. 

Hickman, who lived in Melfa and died April 19 at the age of 63, had the rare talent of being overtly nice to everyone. She was uncompromisingly pleasant.

A lot of people in our country do not have this talent right now. By and large, we’re an argumentative culture, dour and sour both.

Our society is good at being comparative and critical. But Hickman performed the hard and necessary work of making life better by being personable. 

I’ve long been fascinated by people like Hickman, who always saw the good and never spoke condescendingly. 

“When Betty asked you how you were doing, it was not a rhetorical question,” said the Rev. Robert Garris during Hickman’s April 24 funeral.

Hickman was a loving wife, mother, and grandmother who was proud of her family. But many others can claim that type of devotion. 

What made Hickman so unusual was her genuine cheerfulness. She was human sunshine. 

She was nice, pleasant, and upbeat — uncommonly so — all the time.

Her daughter, Nicole Crockett, said Doughty’s Market “was where she blossomed.”

For the uninitiated, Doughty’s Market was the Mona Lisa of Eastern Shore convenience stores —  a classic of the genre and a work of art.

Doughty’s Market was known for many culinary delights, including its hot dogs and chicken salad sandwiches. 

Part of Doughty’s Market’s beauty was in its diversity, with its customers a wonderful hodgepodge of races, backgrounds, and ages. 

I always felt Doughty’s Market was an example of what America aspired to be. Everyone was accepted and welcomed. People from vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds stood shoulder to shoulder.

“Doughty’s Market was indeed the melting pot,” said Garris.

Doughty’s Market was the irreplaceable gold ring. Hickman was the diamond in the center of it. 

Before the store closed in 2019, Hickman was its central figure, stationed at the cash register, welcoming and greeting all comers. 

Hickman showed every day that you didn’t need to donate millions of dollars or invent a miracle drug to make a big difference and leave a legacy.

Instead, she proved you can do it with big-hearted, unconditional kindness. 

Over the years, she met my family and enjoyed joking with my son. After the store closed, I enjoyed seeing her around town. Her upbeat disposition never changed.

Garris implored the large funeral crowd to be more like Hickman, who he said had “arms long enough to reach around the community.”

“We can do more,” he said. “We can do like Betty did.”

“I was so proud to be her daughter,” said Crockett at the funeral. 

All of us were quite proud to be her friends. 

The writer is editor of the Eastern Shore Post. He can be reached at                               [email protected].

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