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Doris Hamner

Her roots were of humble Italian immigrant stock. She was born in a remote crossroads town in Virginia. She never attended college, owned a company, worked out of the home or accumulated great wealth. Yet, Doris Giannini Hamner was personified by three outstanding actresses: Maureen O’Hara, Patricia Neal and Michael Learned and she became the basis for the most beloved mother in the hearts of America, Olivia Walton.

Doris Giannini Hamner was born on March 26, 1904, in the small village of Alberene in Albemarle County, VA. She was one of seven children. The family moved to Schuyler where she attended school in the wood frame building next to the Museum. At age 17 she married Earl Henry Hamner. Listen to the story of their whirlwind courtship as told by Earl, Jr.: doris-h.jpg (5151 bytes)

"I want to tell you one of our favorite family stories about my mother and father. My mother’s mother, Miss Ora Lee Giannini, was Baptist. And she was about as Baptist as you can get. She disapproved of dancing, swearing, card playing, hand holding, overly long kisses or any public display of affection, and raised voices on the Sabbath.

The last person in the world she would have selected as a suitor for her sixteen year old daughter was our father. He was twenty at the time, a known carouser, a gambler, a drinker, a dancer, a crack shot and benefitting his Welsh ancestry, he was a singer of note. He thought nothing of going hunting on Sunday and even worse, when he defiled the Lord’s day by fishing, he had to go right past the Baptist Church to get to the Rockfish River. In the church they’d be singing "Shall We Gather At the River?" and going past he’d smile and nod in complete agreement.

My Grandmother forbade my mother to see my father, but somehow they managed to have a courtship. My father proposed. My mother accepted, and they sneaked off to Lovingston to get the license. That night, when she was supposed to be at choir practice, my mother met my father and they went to the Baptist Parsonage to ask Preacher Hicks to marry them. Preacher Hicks had a mild stutter which became intense if he was under stress. He was now under stress. He knew that my grandmother would have a fit if he married the two young people. When my father presented him with the license, Preacher Hicks said, ‘I cannot marry you.’ To which my father replied: ‘You’re not the only damn preacher in the country. We’ll find us another one.’

At that point Preacher Hicks said, ‘Under the c...circumstances, I will marry you,’ and so he did.

Neighbors predicted that the marriage wouldn’t last six months. Her mother swore never to speak to her daughter again, but you know mothers. She came around and saw that gradually her daughter had tamed her young man. He mended his ways, he got himself baptized, joined the church and said goodbye to his fast friends. They had forty-five good years together and to his dying day, he called our mother, Sweetheart."

Doris and Earl Sr. had eight children. She was fond of saying that she could afford eight children but CBS could only afford seven on The Waltons. The family grew up in the white frame house that sits across from the Museum. James Hamner, "Jim Bob", lives there today.

The Great Depression made the Hamner’s resourceful and frugal and more often than not they passed that quality down to their children. Clothing was handed down from the oldest to the youngest. Sometimes a boy’s shirt landed on one of the girls, and the pants didn’t quite fit that younger brother, but if the children complained, Doris would say, "They’re clean, and you’ll wear them!"

Doris and Earl were also resourceful in feeding the family. They kept pigs and had a cow. Earl says that he is probably the only writer in Hollywood who knows how to milk a cow, not that he gets called on much to use that particular talent. "I dream of the day when my agent calls and says: ‘Twentieth Century Fox is looking for a writer who can milk a cow.’ Won’t happen," says Earl.

The Hamner family had a garden, and during the summer Doris and the grandmothers put up vegetables and berries and fruit. Earl can still remember that wonderful vinegary aroma that permeated the house after the first frost when his mother picked the last of the tomatoes and made green tomato relish. His grandmother Gianinni’s peach preserves were probably the best in the country, and the sausage they made when they slaughtered hogs was so pungent and peppery, it still makes him hungry just to think of it. Daughter Audrey remembers her mother’s special Sunday dinners of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans and chocolate cake from scratch.

And while Doris and the grandmothers did the canning, Earl Sr. shot quail and pheasant, venison, and squirrel and rabbit. He brought back bass and catfish from the Rockfish River and at Thanksgiving there was never a store bought turkey, but one that came from the neighboring hills and woods.

The children knew they were loved and protected. Their home was a refuge full of hugs and pats and kissing. Some of the children used to complain that Grandfather Hamner’s mustache would scratch them, but they kissed him anyway. And even when they were grown, they kissed their father when they came home. Doris believed that when children know they are loved and trusted they grow up straight and strong. She was quoted as saying, "It was quite a sight when all of my red-headed children would sit down at the table at one time. Earl Sr. would just beam. He was always telling them, ‘you are the best looking children in the county. You are nothing but thoroughbreds.’ They all were and still are."

Yet the Hamner children were not saints. Doris remembered them as average healthy children with the normal amount of scraps, teasing and troubles. "But they weren’t hard headed," she would say, "If they knew something was bad, they didn’t commit the same wrong twice." Daughter Marion recalls that her mother had many rules that, as a girl, she objected to, but later grew to appreciate.

Earl Sr. died in 1969 and Doris on August 31, 1990 after a long bout with Alzheimer’s disease.

She is remembered as a loving mother and grandmother, a woman of deep and abiding faith, a fantastic cook who delighted in feeding family and friends, a hostess who welcomed Waltons fans to her home and the role model for Olivia Walton, the mother who has touched the hearts of the world for over a quarter of a century.

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