Mattie Dellinger, 'Voice of Center,' dies at 101

Willie Nelson and Mattie Dellinger (Source:
Willie Nelson and Mattie Dellinger (Source:

CENTER, TX (KTRE) - She lit up Shelby County with her colorful personality and she knew everyone and everything about Center, Texas.

Center's beloved official town historian, Mattie Dellinger, died Tuesday morning at her home. Friends say she had been ill for sometime and on oxygen. Dellinger's service will be held at First Baptist Church in Center, Saturday, June 1 at 10 AM. There will be two viewings on Friday, May 31 at Mangum Funeral Home. The first from 10 AM - 12 PM and the second 5 PM to 8 PM.

If someone asked Mattie Dellinger where Center, Texas was she would reply, "The center of the universe."

Close friend and former co-worker, Danny Windham says, "She's just kind of like an icon here in Shelby County and everybody's going to miss her for sure."

And if you were to ask anybody in Center, who was the only person who knew everything about everything, they would say, hands down, Mattie.

"If you had any questions you could ask her and I've always said that her knowledge of Shelby County could probably fill up a hard drive," said Windham.

Close friend, Walter Bounds said, "She was the perfect town historian."

In 2008, Dellinger was honored with the official title of "town historian." Even though Dellinger was admired by the likes of Dan Rather and Willie Nelson, her biggest fans have always been her neighbors in Center.

Dellinger easily met the criteria for an official town historian. The Center native's family moved to the town in 1887.

Second, she "got it" because she understood the people that lived in the small town. Dellinger operated a business and raised a family in Center. In addition, she knew folks in both high and low stations of life due to her work for the local newspaper and radio station.

Before it was made official, Dellinger was long known as Center's unofficial town historian. She knew the who, what, when, where, and how of just about every major news event in Shelby County.

"I was a stringer for the 'Houston Chronicle,' 'Houston Post,' 'Beaumont Enterprise,' 'Shreveport Times' and Associated Press and then for two television stations, and I think I covered for Channel 9," Dellinger said in 2008.

The fourth criterion for a person to be an official town historian was a permanent record of their legacy stories. To find that, open "The Light and Champion" to Mattie's Party Line, a weekly column she wrote for over 40 years.

"I just love writing," Dellinger said in the 2008 interview. "I've covered a lot of good stories."

And along with the title of town historian came the perks of having her picture hang in the courthouse alongside all the elected public officials.

"She's the only non-elected public official in the courthouse in Center," said Bounds.

According to an article that ran in the "Baltimore Sun" newspaper on Jan. 17, 1999, Dellinger was also the widely popular host of a radio call-in show called "Mattie's Party Line." The show ran for more than 15 years.

"Letterman and Leno have asked her on their shows, but, no thank you, she doesn't cotton to the idea of flying on an airplane," the article stated. "Politicians stop by to visit when they're 'lectioneering,' and Willie Nelson calls occasionally to say hello."

The "Baltimore Sun" article described Dellinger's radio show as "an island of pleasant chatter in the midst of the sound and fury that dominate talk radio."

"If Mattie's 'Party Line' is a window to the soul of Center, it's quite a cozy place to live," the Baltimore Sun article stated. "Having lived here her entire life, Mattie Imelda McLendon Dellinger knows just about every caller by name. They exchange pleasantries, ask after one another - everyone is apparently 'tolerable' - and catch up on who saw whose daughter the other day."

Mattie and her spunky personality gained the attention of Willie Nelson after she said on her radio show that she didn't like Nelson's music or his long hair. Nelson decided he was going to change her mind by calling into the show and even coming by to visit Dellinger from time to time and the two became fast friends.

Windham said one time when Willie Nelson stopped by to visit with Mattie he asked her if there was anything else she wanted to do before he left for a show in Longview and Mattie said "Take me around that square on your bus so I can waive to my friends and sure enough Willie drove his bus around this square and Mattie was hanging out the window waiving at everybody," according to Windham.

When East Texas News interviewed Dellinger in 2008, she was 96. At that age, she still liked to mow her own lawn, play the slot machines, and keep people laughing.

Talking to a crowd in Center in 2008, Dellinger drew laughs when she got short of breath and joked, "I guess it's from heavy smoking and drinking."

Dellinger also had a very gracious side. At the ceremony honoring her as Center's official town historian, Dellinger was uncharacteristically at a loss for words.

"I don't expect you all to … I'm just doing what I want to do," Dellinger said.

Her passion was looking for local story ideas and writing about them. She left that day with quite a few because Dellinger knew she was going to be fulfilling an official duty as the town historian.

Mattie and Becky Maidic met for the first time via "Mattie's Party Line" and over the years they became such close friends Maidic would appear on the radio show and Mattie even dubbed Maidic her "shotgun."

"Mattie and I bonded in such a way that I talked to her every day whether I was in town or in the country," said Maidic.

Life long family friend, Rob Payne says he can think of two qualities that perfectly describe Mattie.

"Mattie is both persuasive and endearing and but with that combination that is so powerful," said Payne. "Leaders of nations want to be persuasive and endearing because they can talk you into doing something but with Mattie, you loved her so you wanted to do it well she could talk anybody into doing anything that she wanted."

"I'm going to miss the shine in her eyes and you could see the shine in her eyes just by talking to her on the telephone," said Payne. "You didn't have to look at her to see that and it to come across she had a star-like glistening aura about her all the time and it came across whether you could just visit with her on the telephone or talk to you in person."

To read the entire "Baltimore Sun" article, visit this link.

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