Belvia Brockman, 87: Frugal matriarch loved baseball, grandchildren

Belvia Brockman didn’t like it when family and friends bought her gifts. She preferred food and fellowship, not things. She objected when they sent her elaborate floral bouquets. After all, those flowers were just going to die.

“She didn’t want anyone spending money on her. She didn’t want to be a bother,” said her daughter Elaine Brockman of Decatur. “She was very pragmatic, very practical.”

Brockman died of cardiopulmonary disease on Feb. 21 at her Decatur home. She was 87. A private gathering will be held at 3:30 p.m. March 15 at Elaine’s Decatur home.

Family members honored her wish to be cremated. When they found out that she’d told the funeral home to discard her ashes to spare her family any extra expense, though, the family said no way.

“I wasn’t having that,” Elaine said. Instead, she browsed the urn styles at the funeral home and went with the basic one – a cardboard box. Family members decorated it with drawings and filled it with notes and a baseball, representing her favorite sport. “It is so her. It fit her practical way of not wanting to be a bother to us.”

Her humble upbringings likely influenced her frugality and independent spirit, her daughter said. Brockman was born in 1927 in Hiawassee, one of five of nine siblings to survive the first year of life. Her father died in a logging accident when she was 10. She and her siblings tended the farm animals and crops while their mother walked 1½ miles to her job as a cook at a dairy, said her brother, James W. Dills of Seneca, S.C.

“We didn’t have much time for play. We worked hard, pulling corn, cutting wood,” Dills said. “I just remember that she was pretty strong-willed and independent.”

After graduating from high school in 1946, she moved to Atlanta, attended secretarial school and worked as a secretary at Moffatt Bearings Company on Luckie Street and the R.T. French Company. In 1949, she married Fred Brockman. They had two daughters and divorced 25 years later.

Ever the pragmatist, Brockman wanted to get the most of all she worked hard for. Her response to the Cuban Missile Crisis was to get her black suede pumps and wool coat out of the department store layaway. “She’d been paying on it for months, and she didn’t want to lose her money,” Elaine said. “She figured that if all we have is the present and bombs were going to fall, I want my coat out of layaway.”

While she enjoyed family events, the self-described hermit also treasured time alone, Elaine said. She sewed most of her own and her daughters’ clothes and made school costumes and Barbie doll outfits.

Although she lived most of her life in metro Atlanta, Brockman remained proud of her Appalachian roots.

“She thought ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ was offensive,” Elaine said. “You were insulting her family, neighbors and friends.”

She loved the Atlanta Braves, but she reserved her most impassioned fan fervor for her grandsons’ baseball games, where the 5-foot-2, 87-pound grandmother would scowl and shake her fists at umpires she felt had made an unfair call.

“She would get so animated at those umpire calls that we would get tickled,” recalled step-grandson John Florence of Columbia, S.C., who first met Brockman at age 7 when his father married her daughter Elaine. “She was usually so quiet and mild-mannered and never had a bad thing to say about anyone.”

Brockman had told her grandchildren to call her Mama Bev. But after seeing her taking on the umps at their games, her grandsons began calling her “Mad Dog Mama Bev.”

The movie “A League of Their Own” was in theaters. The grandsons made up stories about her playing with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. They even created a fake baseball card, complete with her stats.

Brockman thought their ruse was silly, but good-naturedly went along, Florence said. “She didn’t take anything that seriously except doing the right thing and enjoying her life,” he said.

Florence said he’ll always remember her selflessness and concern for others. Though not related, she never treated him any different than she treated her biological grandchildren.

“What was important to her was people, not stuff. She was always at my games, whether I was 8 or 18,” he said. “When she committed, it was 100 percent, and she was all in and committed until the day she passed.”

In addition to daughter Elaine and brother James, Brockman is survived by her daughter Darlene Brockman of Decatur; her sister, Annalee Hooper of Hiawassee; five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.