EDEN — Ruby Hinson was just 16 the first time she played the organ for the Easter Sunday service at First Baptist Church on Greenwood Street in what was then Leaksville. That was back in 1948.
Six months later, she officially was voted in as organist.
On June 23, the congregation recognized Hinson’s long service by dedicating a plaque in her honor. Deacon Bob Bennett and choir member Debbie Lewis made the presentation.
The brass plaque, installed on the side of the organ facing the congregation, reads “In honor and appreciation of Ruby Smith Hinson, dedicated organist.”
“It was a nice surprise,” she said in a telephone interview two days later. “They have done things for me over the years. They have been very nice and very appreciative.”
In the past, she has been given a watch and a medallion with the church picture etched on one side.
Music came naturally to 89-year-old, she said. All her family played different instruments and sang.
“There was always a piano in the house,” she said. When she was 11, her parents, the late Fred and Hattie Smith, hired the late Emma Stehlig to teach their four children to play the piano. The teacher asked each child to practice for two hours each day, but Hinson was the only one who complied with that request.
Her brother, the late Fred Smith, “could play any kind of music by ear,” and would not practice, Hinson said. After about two years, Stehlig said “she wasn’t going to take his mother’s money anymore because he was not practicing what she was trying to teach him.” Fred also played the guitar, fiddle, piano and organ and sang.
The three sisters also sang in a trio, and their mother sang with different groups.
Hinson said she enjoyed playing the piano so much that within a few years she was playing the organ.
When she first started playing the church organ, her mother accompanied her to church every week, sitting in the pew while she practiced.
She took piano lessons until age 20, when she married Stanley County native James L. Hinson. Her husband had moved to Rockingham County to work for Belk. He decorated the stores and windows at the Madison, Draper, The Boulevard and Washington Street stores.
Her husband built their own house, complete with heat and air conditioning, off Hamilton Street.
After graduating from Leaksville High School in 1948, Ruby worked as a bank teller at First National Bank of Leaksville, later Southern National Bank, and now BB&T. She retired in 1985.
During her years of service at the church, Ruby played for multiple choir directors, including Duane Best, Morehead High School’s retired director.
In 1993, because of family concerns, Hinson stopped playing for the church but returned 12 years later.
“She has played faithfully for the Sunday morning service for nearly 60 years, or about 3,000 services,” said Church Personnel Committee member Lewis, who has known Hinson about 20 years and was part of the group planning the surprise for her.
In addition, she played for Sunday evening and Wednesday services, choir rehearsals, weddings and funerals.
Greensboro resident and pianist Marc Stone, who grew up in the church, said Hinson played for the wedding of his parents, Bill and Barbara Stone, who have been married 60 years.
Hinson still comes to the church once a week to practice for the upcoming service.
“It has always been a part of my life,” Hinson said.
Not only has she performed at First Baptist Church, but Hinson is well known as a superior accompanist in the area. Several times, she filled in at the last minute when another organist or pianist was ill.
When she did this for a Christmas cantata at another church, people thought she had been practicing with them all along, Lewis said.
Known for her quick wit and family stories, Hinson once told Lewis that she owned half a bull, and the farmer next to her owned the other half. When Lewis asked which half she owned, Hinson quickly replied, “The business half.”
A few years ago, Hinson moved to a farm in the county, where she raises cattle, but she still owns the home off Hamilton Street.
The spry lady still has her driver’s license and drives wherever she wants to go.
“I’ve been fortunate,” she said. “I don’t hurt anywhere and I don’t have arthritis anywhere. I’ve been very blessed.”
“She is a wonderful lady with a servant heart,” said Lewis who worked closely with Hinson as interim choir director for several months.