Martha Roby

Martha Roby, mayor of Orange, remembers the lessons she learned at Christmastime about building relationships and getting along with others. 

Martha Roby, a retired educator and mayor of Orange, has fond memories of her childhood Christmases in the farming community of Dundes, about 20 miles north of the North Carolina border. The oldest of five children, she said every year her family cut down a cedar tree from their farm to use as their Christmas tree. Mingling with the woodsy smell of cedar was another pungent aroma. “To me, when a memory comes back, it’s the scent of tangerines and oranges that immediately makes me think of Christmas. Because, when I was growing up, you didn’t have tangerines and oranges except at Christmas. They were not available any other time of year.” The week before Christmas, Santa paid a visit to her church, and young Martha loved every minute of it: “He would come to the basement of our church and, oh my gosh, I thought that was the biggest place in the world! You could walk in there and hear your voice echo.” From Santa’s own hand, each child received a cellophane bag containing a tangerine, nuts and candy (including a chocolate drop with white filling), plus a candy cane poking out of the top of the bag. Her eyes shining with the memory, Roby explained why the church gathering meant the world to her: “I think it was the happiness that was there. No one was ever angry; nobody had a problem; everybody was happy. And that’s something that children now—their minds sometimes get very, very bogged down with things so that happiness can’t rise up the way it used to. I was fortunate that [Christmas] was a happy time for me, and it really helped me growing up to develop relationships, know the importance of community, understand how to interact with people and appreciate them, too. That’s a lifelong lesson for me.”

Hilary Holladay covers education and politics for the Orange County Review. The author of five books, she is currently writing a biography of the poet Adrienne Rich.

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