Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 9, 2009

Mother of Homer Hickam dies at 97

GARDEN CITY, S.C. — Elsie Gardener Hickam, 97, a former resident of Gary and Coalwood and the mother of Homer Hickam, passed away peacefully Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009, in Garden City, S.C.

Hickam, the author of the popular “Rocket Boys” memoirs, contacted the Daily Telegraph Friday via e-mail to inform the region of his mother’s passing.

“Mom had a great life,” Hickam said in a statement. “Everything she wanted to do, she did. She was known for her tenacity, her love of life, her raw intelligence, and her wisdom. She raised two sons, an alligator, a fox, a squirrel, and numerous dogs and cats, all of whom she loved. They just don't make them like her anymore. Her family and friends are going to miss her but we take comfort she stayed true to herself to the end.”

Elsie Hickam was born June 15, 1912, in McDowell County near Gary, Hickam lived for many years in Coalwood before moving to live in Garden City, S.C. She was preceded in death by her husband, Homer Hickam Sr., who died on Sept. 2, 1989. Until his retirement, Homer Hickam Sr. was the mine superintendent of Olga Coal Company. Her brothers Kenneth, Joe, Charlie, Victor, and James Kent also preceded her in death.

Elsie Hickam was a 1930 graduate of Gary High School, and was active in many organizations in Coalwood, including the Coalwood Community Church Methodist Women’s Circle and the Olga Woman’s Club. She also supported local schools, and worked tirelessly to raise funds for a variety of student activities. She was prominently featured in the memoirs written by her son, including “Rocket Boys,” “The Coalwood Way,” “Sky of Stone,” and “We Are Not Afraid,” according to information provided by Burke Allen of Allen Media Strategies. Elsie Hickam’s character was played Natalie Canerday in the award winning 1999 motion picture “October Sky.”

Her oldest son, Jim, was for many years the football coach at Northside High School in Roanoke. Her youngest son, Homer “Sonny” Hickam Jr. retired from NASA as an engineer and continues working today as a popular novels..

She is survived by her sister Mary Lavender of Mount Airy, N.C., two sons, James Venable Hickam and wife Betty Laphew of Roanoke, Va., and Homer (Sonny) Hickam, Jr. and wife Linda Terry of Huntsville, Alab. She is also survived by a granddaughter, Cheyanne Hickam of Roanoke, and three great grandsons, James David, Michael and Rex Hadley Morgan.

Because she was a lover of all cats, it is asked that memorial donations be sent to or Forgotten Felines, P.O. Box 4506, Huntsville, AL 35815.

Memorial services will be private.