Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sylvia's smile: Shoppers sad to lose their friend behind the counter

Telegram Staff Writer

She wasn't famous, and she didn't have a million dollars.
But Sylvia Womack had a lot of smiles, and her friends and co -workers said she gave them away generously.
Mrs. Womack, 53, died July 17 - leaving a hole in the lives of dozens of Temple shoppers whose store of choice is the H-E-B on 31st Street. After 27 years, the smiling lady at register 3 isn't there anymore.
The Telegram received two letters from shoppers Beverly Bonnet and Barbara Brown who grieved Mrs. Womack's natural, but unexpected, death.
'For years and years, I stood in line so that Sylvia could check me out,' Ms. Bonnet wrote in her July 26 letter. 'She was accurate, speedy, friendly and always cheerful. She will be sorely missed by many.'
In a follow-up phone interview, Ms. Bonnet said Mrs. Womack was so special to her that she had to step outside her comfort zone to express her grief.
'I've never written a letter to the editor, but when I heard that Sylvia died, I had to do something. She's the reason I went to H-E-B,' Ms. Bonnet said. 'So many people must have felt the same way. After overhearing my name at restaurants and stores, random people have come up to me and said, 'I don't know you, but thank you for writing that letter. She will be missed by a lot of us.' '
Mrs. Brown echoed the sentiment in her July 27 letter.
'Temple lost one of its best citizens last week with the passing of Sylvia Womack - an amazing woman,' Mrs. Brown said. 'She was one of the most genuine people I have ever known. You instinctively knew that she truly cared about everyone.'
In the first week after Mrs. Womack died, the store received more than a hundred flowers, balloons and cards from customers that expressed sympathy and condolence.
One shopper wrote a poem in Mrs. Womack's honor and contributed it to the memorial, as did Mrs. Womack's daughter.
Mrs. Womack's husband, Johnny, became the custodian of most of the memorial. A poster with pictures and expressions of love is all that remains of the display that when whole took up the entirety of register 3 - the workstation that Mrs. Womack manned for close to three decades.
Aug. 6 was the first day Johnny Womack went to the store after his wife's death.
'It was too hard for me to go out there right at the beginning, so I didn't get to see the memorial when it was set up,' Womack said. 'I have the green posters and cards. It all has a lot of special writing on it. It tugged at my heart to find out how many people knew and loved her.'
Both of the two green poster boards are 4 feet by 4 feet. They are filled with loopy signatures of people who said they'll miss Mrs. Womack, who said they wish her an eternity of peace and rest.
'But I did get to see the poster board that's still set up,' her husband said. 'It has a lot of pictures on it that bring good memories.'
'And tears,' he said after a moment.
Mr. and Mrs. Womack would have celebrated their 35th anniversary on July 20. 

Everyone's friend
Not unlike several other H-E-B shoppers, Mrs. Brown said Mrs. Womack was a close friend.
'She wasn't just a check-out lady,' Mrs. Brown said. 'She was one of the first people I met when we moved from Corpus Christi to Temple in the June of 2003.'
Whenever she visited the grocery store, which was two or three times each week, Mrs. Brown said they would talk about each other's children, vacations and worries.
'I would make it a point to stop and talk to her,' Mrs. Brown said. 'She was a genuine person who had genuine concern.'
Mrs. Womack behaved that way toward so many people, Mrs. Brown said.
'She never had a fake, plastic smile on her face,' Mrs. Brown said. 'I'd be standing in line, waiting to talk to her, and she'd be saying to the people in front of me, 'How's the baby? How's the wife? Is your mom feeling better?' She remembered stuff like that, and she knew everyone's names.'
Coworker Linda Ortega-Temeyosa said Mrs. Womack's memory was a trait she admired.
'I don't know how she did it. I'm so bad with names,' Ms. Ortega-Temeyosa said. 'But Sylvia knew her customers. And they knew her. They all wanted to talk to her.'
It wasn't uncommon for a manager to tell people waiting in Mrs. Womack's line to move to another register, Ms. Ortega-Temeyosa said.
Mr. Womack said he witnessed that a couple of times when he visited her at work.
'I would have to wait a lot before I could talk with her,' Mr. Womack said. 'And I would think, 'Man, can't they get her some help?' And then I looked to the empty, open register right next to her. It dawned on me that they all wanted to talk to Sylvia. They were waiting for her, personally, and that made it OK.'
Mrs. Womack's daughter, Christina Womack-Luedke, said her mother's customers were special to her.
'I can remember that I'd go with her when she went to visit customers who was sick in the hospital and hospice,' Ms. Womack-Luedke said. 'She always kept track of how they were doing.'
There were also customers whose children Mrs. Womack babysat, Ms. Ortega-Temeyosa said.
'My mother was the kind of person who wen the extra mile,' Ms. Womack-Luedke said.
Her daughter said that's how she thinks Mrs. Womack got to be the person who everyone will miss.

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