Doris May Selig

Doris May Selig

GUILDERLAND — Doris May Selig loved a challenge. Starting as a copy girl, she worked her way up to a supervisory role for the Associated Press at a time when very few women were in the news business. Although she worked for decades in Manhattan, she never gave up her rural roots in Guilderland.

She died on Friday, May 12, 2017.  She was 90.

“She was interested in things and people, a friend to everybody,” said her brother.

“She was one of the bravest women I have ever known,” said her niece, Cindy Schultz. “She would do anything. She once drove to Arizona by herself and slept in her car. She had no fear.”

Ms. Schultz recalled how one time, when Ms. Selig was walking in New York City, a thief tried to grab her pocketbook. “She had a briefcase in her other hand and slugged him with it,” she said.

Ms. Selig relished the times when a storm would knock out electric power, said Ms. Schultz. “She loved to rough it, to depend on candles and her wood stove,” she said. “At 88, she was shovelling snow herself and got mad if people did it for her.”

Until very recently, Ms. Selig drove a pickup truck and would throw bags of feed for her horses into the back. Her niece recalls seeing Ms. Selig, when she was well into her 80s, standing on the back of her pickup, chainsaw in hand, to trim a tree in her yard.

“The usual way you’d see her,” said Ms. Schultz, “is in a flannel shirt and dungarees with a camera around her neck.”

Born in Albany, Ms. Selig was the daughter of the late William and Clara Bischoff Selig. Her father died when she was young after which her mother married Worthy C. Cox Sr. and moved with her children to Willow Street in Guilderland.

“She adored Mr. Cox; that was Dad to her,” said Ms. Schultz.

“We moved to an old farmhouse across from the two-room schoolhouse,” said her brother, John Selig who was born three years after his sister. The schoolhouse on Willow Street now serves as State Police barracks. Later, Mr. Cox would build a home, also on Willow Street, where Ms. Selig lived for the rest of her life.

“We had pigs, chickens, and a cow,” recalled Mr. Selig. Willow Street was then a dirt road. “Doc Fitzgerald had a stable where he boarded thoroughbreds. She would exercise his horses...She was well-versed in animals. She learned how to caponize roosters so we had big ones,” he said, explaining that castrating them made them grow more.

Commenting on his sister’s veterinary skills, he said, “She was just a natural.”

Ms. Selig and her brothers went to school at the two-room schoolhouse on Willow Street. Being bright, she “picked up what was going on in other grades and skipped ahead,” said her brother. She went on to Altamont High School. “She graduated at 15 in June,” said Mr. Selig “and turned 16 in October.”

She stayed in touch with many high school friends throughout her life and served on the board of the Altamont High School Alumni Association.

Ms. Selig graduated in 1942, in the midst of World War II. After graduating, she got a job with the Associated Press office in Albany as a copy grl. “The teletype operator was drafted and she moved up to his spot,” said Mr. Selig. “He returned from the war in 1945 and she went back to being a copy girl.”

But that did not stop Ms. Selig’s rise in the international news-gathering company. “News was sent by teletype then and pictures were sent by mail,” said Mr. Selig. “Wire photos were invented and they sent her to Buffalo to learn how to do it in the Albany office,” he said.

She worked for the AP for 50 years, retiring as an Assistant Chief of Communications, and then worked from home as a consultant for many years in her retirement.

“She was always willing to share her knowledge on the inner workings of the GlassHouse — the AP’s communications nerve center — which she ran with total efficiency,” wrote an AP colleague, Emile Conrad, in the funeral home’s guestbook. “She was the captain of the ship while on duty and fielded questions and solved problems from around the world. We lost a one-of-a-kind lady — strong, knowledgeable, and always friendly.”

“I learned a lot from her in the AP,” wrote another colleague, Vic Malavé. “She was my teacher and mentor for many years. I will miss her in the Bi-Weekly Desk Squad meetings.”

 

Enterprise file photo — Doris Selig
In the wee hours of the morning on June 21, 2015, Doris Selig was there with her camera to capture firefighters battling the blaze as the poolhouse at Tawasentha Park burned. As always, she shared her pictures with Enterprise readers.

 

Ms. Selig lived her entire life on Willow Street, most of it in the house Worthy Cox Sr. built. When her work for the AP took her to Manhattan, she lived in Dobbs Ferry in Westchester County but commuted home to Willow Street each weekend. She was a member of the nearby Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church.

“Her heart was still here,” said Curtis Cox, Ms. Selig’s nephew.

“My mother, father, sister, and I lived with her in the house my father and her co-owned,” said Mr. Cox, son of the late Worthy C. Cox Jr.

“She always had animals — horses, dogs, and cats,” Mr. Cox said. Ms. Selig rode Western style, and enjoyed riding on trails in the Pine Bush, he said.

She taught him and his sister, Cynthia Schultz, to ride. They learned on a horse named Bucky.

Bucky was the son of her horse, Ginger; she broke Bucky to a saddle herself, Ms. Schultz said. “She did not believe in using bits,” she said. “Her bridles were bitless.”

Ms. Schultz said her aunt frequently told her that the reason Old State Road is so curvy is because it used to be a horse trail. “When she was a kid, they rode horses there and the trails went around the wet spots, making it curvy,” said Ms. Schultz.

Echoing Mr. Selig’s recollections about his sister’s way with healing animals, Ms. Schultz said, “When they grew up on Willow Street, back then, people didn’t go to doctors or vets unless it was really serious. When people had a medical problem, like a splinter or a skinned knee, they’d go to her mother. If they had a problem with an animal, they’d bring it to Doris. She was a natural caretaker of animals.”

Ms. Selig was particularly fond of German shepherds and had a series of them. Her favorite was Major. “He was big and beautiful, a gentle soul,” recalled Ms. Schultz. Ms. Selig also had Major’s son, Baron, as a pet. “He was a little more aggressive,” said Ms. Schultz.

Ms. Selig kept barn cats, and Ms. Schultz remembers that once her aunt brought home four kittens with the idea that she’d keep two but ended up keeping all four.

“She was always out in the garden,” said Mr. Cox. There, Ms. Selig raised potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and beans. She canned pickles that her family loved from the cucumbers she grew.

She also had grape vines and would put up grape jelly each year. And she grew blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries.

Since her childhood, Ms. Selig was interested in photography. She had a darkroom in the basement of her Willow Street home.

“I was so lucky, having horses in my backyard and a darkroom in my basement,” recalled Ms. Schultz. She loved to sit in the darkroom and watch her aunt work.

“I can still see her picking her pictures up out of the tray of chemicals,” she said.

“Every time she went somewhere,” said her brother, “she had at least two cameras in her handbag.”

“She was great with electronics. She’d build computers from scratch,” said Mr. Cox.

Ms. Schultz agreed. “She was always a whiz at electronics. She was self-taught. She would build her own radios as a kid….At AP, she oversaw the technical people; she had 100 people under her.”

Mr. Cox also said, “She was very well organized.”  She had the negatives from her original Speed Graphic camera in folders with the time, date, event, and people pictured neatly noted, he said. “Now, all of it is on her computer, millions of photos,” he said.

Long after her retirement, Mr. Cox said, his aunt continued to do work for AP as a paid consultant, doing remote computer diagnosis from her Willow Street home. “This past spring,” he said, with the Daylight Savings time change, she had to verify there were no glitches,” Mr. Cox said, giving a recent example of her work.

“She’s a night person,” said Mr. Cox. “She’d be up half the night, driving around, shooting fires or accident scenes.”

“She had a scanner in every room in the house,” said Ms. Schultz. “If it was noteworthy, she’d be out in a shot.”

Ms. Schultz also said, “When Dad became a State Trooper in 1962, she was very interested in the State Police.” She became friends with State Troopers, Mr. Cox said, and was asked to take pictures for forensic work.

Ms. Selig frequently shared her photographs of fires with The Altamont Enterprise and other local newspapers. She was also the official photographer for the Guilderland Fire Department.

Ms. Selig was the last surviving charter member of the department’s Ladies’ Auxiliary, where she served as treasurer for many years until the time of her death. The fire department was organized in 1931, Mr. Cox said, and the auxiliary was founded 20 years later in 1951 with a dozen charter members. Many of the men in Ms. Selig’s family volunteered as firefighters, Ms. Schultz said.

“She was extremely supportive of the organization,” said Mr. Cox. “When it came to a fundraiser, she would donate out of her pocket to make the fundraiser work,” he said, for example, donating the potatoes to go with the annual turkey dinner.

Ms. Selig would persist despite hardship, Mr. Cox said. “Three years ago, as bad as her legs were,” he said, “she marched the entire route of the Albany St. Patrick Day Parade, from beginning to end.”

He concluded, “She was a fighter up to the end.”

****

Doris May Selig is survived by her brother, John Selig, and his wife, Barbara, of Delmar; her sister in law, Dorothy Selig of Texas; her dear friend, Cindy Dolan; and many nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews.

Her parents, William and Clara Bischoff Selig, died before her as did her brothers, William H. Selig and Worthy C. Cox Jr.

Calling hours will be held on Wednesday evening, May 17, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the DeMarco-Stone Funeral Home at 5216 Western Turnpike (Route 20) in Guilderland. Mourners may leave condolences and share memories online at  demarcostonefuneralhome.com.

Funeral services will be held on Thursday, May 18, at 11 a.m. at the Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church at 2291 Western Ave. with burial at Prospect Hill Cemetery, also on Western Avenue in Guilderland.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Guilderland Fire Department Ladies’ Auxiliary, 2303 Western Ave., Guilderland, NY  12084 or to the Guilderland Food Pantry, Post Office Box 7, Guilderland NY 12084.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer  

 

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