Obituary of Hortense Spence Williams
Hortense Spence Williams, our beloved shining star from Virginia Beach, peacefully embarked on her heavenly journey on January 10, 2024, following a brief battle with illness.
Born on February 10, 1928, in Greensville County, Virginia, to Jesse and Fannie Spence, Hortense grew up surrounded by her loving siblings, Norfleet, Dallas, Thelma, Jessie Jr., Valroy, William Arthur Douglas, Celestee, Paul, and Pauline in the Hicksford area, near Macedonia Baptist Church. Adored by her father, she fondly recalled tying his shoes each morning, establishing herself as the cherished "daddy's girl."
Mrs. Williams graduated high school from Greensville County schools and attended St. Paul’s Polytechnical College (later known as St. Paul’s College), where she majored in industrial education. She accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior early and faithfully attended Macedonia Baptist Church, where she was a member until she relocated to Norfolk, Virginia, in the 1940s.
After graduating from college, she embraced entrepreneurship, inspired by her father. She relocated to the Hampton Roads area to stay with her older sister, the late Thelma Edwards, a local educator, married to the late Albert T. Edwards, former principal of I.C. Norcom High School. Her vision of motivating others to be and look their best prompted her to start working as a manicurist. She observed barbers and stylists working alongside her in the shop, quickly realizing that she could outperform them. She was ahead of her time as an African-American businesswoman in the 1960s in a male-dominated profession. Her entrepreneurial spirit led her to open Hortense’s Barber Salon, a trailblazing establishment at 908 Church Street, Norfolk, Virginia, in early 1960. She expanded the business to include manicurists, cosmetologists, and barbers. Hortense’s Salon was the place to get your hair cut and styled. Men in the Norfolk area knew where to go to get the “conk” style in the early 1960s, leading to Afros in the late 1960s, Jheri Curls in the 1970s, flat tops, high-top fades, rat tail, etc. Mrs. Williams hired and mentored the best barbers and stylists who stayed up with the fashions over the years, maintaining a customer base of the most influential men in the Norfolk area. In early 2000, she relocated the business to 848 Granby Street in Norfolk. Mrs. Williams, a visionary African-American businesswoman, mentored many in the industry and nurtured a legacy beyond hair care. She worked every day at the shop until the pandemic because she loved the people she worked alongside and the community she served. Her succession plan for the business was to pass the shop to her beloved Godson, Wardence Butler, whom she had mentored and poured her love into for many years. Mrs. Williams exemplified unstoppable selflessness, emphasizing the importance of love and giving back.
Mrs. Williams was a pillar in the community, sponsoring church and community sessions to speak to students on the importance of self-image and professional “presence” in their academic and professional pursuits. She mentored many middle and high school students who worked in the shop as pre-apprentices, including her nephew, Douglas. Now a medical doctor, Douglas used the money to help buy his school clothes. She always reached back to help others achieve, always putting herself last. She strongly advocated for education, community service, economic empowerment, and self-sufficiency.
Mrs. Williams served as a trustee at First Baptist Church, Bute Street, where she engaged in community outreach and fundraising to support young people in their academic endeavors. Each year, she raised funds and collected donations so that students would have backpacks and supplies for the beginning of the school year. She loved children and devoted her time and talent to ensuring they had what was needed for their academic pursuits.
Mrs. Williams was instrumental in developing the Norfolk State University Basketball Classic, collaborating with Dr. Harrison B. Wilson, the late Norfolk State University President. She wanted as many youth from the community as possible to see the university and to attend collegiate games. She worked tirelessly to fundraise for young people to attend a college basketball game at Joe Echols Hall, free of charge. She also spearheaded community fundraisers for the L.D. Britt, MD, Scholarship, serving on the committee to award scholarships for minority students from the Norfolk Community. She was honored with many awards for her community engagement, including the Norfolk State University Presidential Citation. Unstoppable and selfless, she was a champion of volunteerism and felt strongly about people giving back to their community. Mrs. Williams was quoted in The Voice, a local newspaper, stating, “The youth just need someone to show them love and let them know that someone cares about them. We need to show more love. We really need to show more love.” Mrs. Williams lived by that statement each day, showing God’s love.
A woman of great poise and eloquence, she was admired for her beauty, style, business sense, heartfelt generosity, and ability to handle any situation. She encouraged all her nieces to keep a business sense and be ready, as you don’t know when opportunities will present themselves. “Business is business, baby.” Her charm, beauty, and wit could command an audience. She willingly shared the spotlight and was quick to help others rise and prosper. She will be greatly missed by all who know her.
Mrs. Williams was preceded in death by her parents and 13 of her siblings. She leaves to cherish her legacy and fond memories her sister, Pauline Spence Epps, of Hampton, Virginia; Mediel W. Spence, sister-in-law; a host of nieces and nephews; Godson, Wardence Butler; her spiritual confidante and long-time friend, Pam Walker; her deacon and deaconess Clarence and Patricia Childers; the members of the First Baptist Church, Bute Street, and numerous long-time friends, co-workers, neighbors, community and professional associates who offered time and assistance to her especially during her illness.
The family extends special gratitude to the many friends, neighbors, and caregivers who provided patience, gentleness, and kindness in her care and support to Mrs. Williams throughout the last several years of her life. Heartfelt gratitude to her nurse and friend, Savannah Risch, who cared for and supported Mrs. Williams for the past several years, and Annie Veranga, Caring Hands, LLC, where she convalesced until her homegoing.
In lieu of memorials, the family encourages volunteering to honor Mrs. Williams' legacy. Rest in peace, dear Aunt Hortense, your spirit forever flourishing in God's eternal garden.To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Hortense Williams , please visit Tribute Store