Minium: Vanessa Hudson was Loving, Faithful and a Longtime Member of Monarch Nation

24 Nov 2021 | 07:30

We’re all going to die. Black or white, rich or poor, religious or not, it doesn’t matter. We’re all mortal.

Even though we know that universal truth, laying a loved one to rest is always heartbreaking, especially if he or she was as faithful, kind and caring as was Vanessa Hudson.

I think it’s best, if possible, to reflect on the good times when we’re saying good bye to someone we dearly loved. So, I will start this column about Vanessa with something humorous.

If you knew Vanessa, you knew she was a constant presence at Old Dominion University athletic events. She was the younger sister of Carol Hudson, the former longtime ODU sports information director, and when she wasn’t working or volunteering at her church, she was at ODU.

“My first two years at ODU,” said former basketball star Kenny Gattison, “I thought Vanessa worked for ODU. She was always there.”

Several years ago, when I was covering ODU football for The Virginian-Pilot, I spied Vanessa on the other side of the press box at Foreman Field. It had been months since we’d seen each other, so we hugged (she was a great hugger) and kissed each other on the cheek and then talked for a few minutes.

Just friends saying hello, but it could have easily been misinterpreted as something more for those who didn’t know us.

Then I looked into the TV monitor just a few feet away and saw that our hugging and kissing was being broadcast (with a seven-second delay) on national TV.

Later, she said she got messages from people wanting to know if she had a new boyfriend. When I sat back down on press row, I had text messages and emails from friends who wanted to know who that beautiful woman was.

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Beautiful? Yes, that described Vanessa, both inside and out. She may be the sweetest person I ever met.

And did she ever love her brother. They were young when their parents died and lived together ever since in a modest home close to Norfolk State.

I’ve never seen a brother and sister who did more to take care of each other. It is impossible to describe how close they were.

She was younger than Carol but fussed over him like his Mom. Ken Samet, who worked with me at the Mace and Crown student newspaper when we attended ODU, recalls one time when Carol was taking a train to come see him.

Ken, by the way, is President and Chief Executive Officer of Medstar Health, a $5.8 billion healthcare system. He made a donation that made it possible for the press room at Chartway Arena to be named for Carol.

Vanessa called Ken not once, but twice, to make sure he knew when and where to pick up Carol.

“Vanessa, you know he’s a grown-up man, don’t you?” Samet asked.

She laughed, and said she knew that. But it didn’t matter. She ran the household. She took care of her brother. And when she wasn’t busy at her job with a local bank, she helped the hungry and homeless while working for her church.

Both Carol and Vanessa are faithful Catholics, graduates of old Norfolk Catholic High School and members of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Norfolk. It is a beautiful church whose congregation is majority African American.

The last few years, it was Carol’s turn to take care of his sister. She came down with cancer and although there were times when she looked like she might have beaten the odds, the cruel beast that kills so many good people eventually took her life.

Vanessa was 61 when she died on July 3.

You may have read me write this before, but I’ll say it again: Old Dominion University’s athletic department is a family. We care about each other. It’s something you can’t appreciate unless you work here.

That was apparent at Vanessa’s visitation at the Paul Riddick Funeral Home on July 12 and her funeral on July 13. The Riddick building was full of ODU officials, coaches, athletes and so many other ODU friends most of the day.

Athletic Director Wood Selig cut his vacation a day short to attend her funeral. Most people who work in the Jim Jarrett Athletic Building joined him, as did a host of former players, coaches and fans.

Former ODU basketball coach Paul Webb, who is 92 years old, was driven by his son Eddie Webb to the graveside service at Forest Lawn Cemetery and Carol hugged him like he was his father.

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This has been such a difficult year for Carol. His best friend, long-time ODU supporter and Chesapeake Sheriff Claude Stafford, died just three months ago.

Although she was weakened by cancer, and knew that if she was exposed to COVID that it would be deadly, Vanessa insisted on attending Claude’s funeral to say good bye to her friend.

It has been a difficult year for ODU athletics in general. In the last year we lost former head basketball coach Sonny Allen, former baseball coach Mark Newman, Annette Finwood, the wife of baseball coach Chris Finwood and former field hockey All-American Maaike Hilbrand.

Last week, the fragile nature of life was exposed again when Grant Gardner, ODU’s associate director of communications, lost his uncle, David Jones, and Jones’ dear friend, Jennifer O’Connell.

They were killed by a Chesapeake man, who while trying to elude the police, crashed into their car. I met David Jones and few loved ODU football and basketball more than he did.

The entire ODU basketball coaching staff was on the road recruiting, but everyone called and texted Grant.

Vanessa was eulogized by the Father Jim Curran during a Catholic funeral at the Basilica. And as a good priest should do, he gave the believers in the crowd inspiring words of comfort and left many in tears.

Frankly, the few quotes below don’t do justice to his powerful and emotional message.

“Vanessa had the kind of faith, when things were not going the way she wanted them to, when things were not going the way they should, when she felt the pain, she felt sadness, she felt the disappointment, she felt the fear, she always trusted in the steadfast love of God,” he said.

“Because faith in that steadfast love of God is what gives us the strength and courage to endure the trials that life throws at us. And life threw some at Vanessa.

“I didn’t know Vanessa her whole life, but I knew her for nine years. It was impossible to be a member of this church and not know Vanessa. She was always here, always here.

“And when I went to visit her and she was struggling with this cancer, there were times when she got good news and times when she got bad news from the doctors.

“But always, always regardless of what news the doctors said, her faith in God was steadfast. She knew whatever way this was going to end for her that the ultimate story is going to be God’s love cannot be defeated.

“God’s presence is so steadfast that there is not a power on heaven, earth or in hell that can separate us from him. Vanessa faced her death with that kind of faith.

“She knew when the Lord wanted her to work and when the Lord just wanted her to sit and ‘let me feed you, sit at my feet and let me fill you with grace and power.’ And the wonderful thing about Vanessa is that she chose that every time.

“She chose to let Jesus comfort her, to let the steadfast love of Jesus guide her life.

“We are saddened by the death of our friend and our sister. We are sad that a light in our life has been taken out. But we are not without hope and we are without faith. Our faith is in a love of Jesus that not even death can take away from us.”

Roger Chesley, a former Virginian-Pilot columnist who writes for the Virginia Mercury, often served as an ecumenical minister with Vanessa. And he confirmed what Father Curran said, that she was steadfast in her love of Christ and was at the church almost daily.

“She’s at peace now. There’s no more pain, no more sadness,” he said.

“But I think a lot about brother because it was just the two of them.”

It was just the two of them.

But ODU is a family and we’re going to take care of Carol.

vanessa hudson

Carol is a living legend among those who know ODU athletics. He joined the ODU basketball team as a manager in 1974 and was there when the Monarchs won the 1975 Division II national men’s basketball title.

He was ODU’s sports information director for more than three decades. No one knows more about ODU’s history, or loves the University, more than Carol Hudson.

Whenever we have a question about players or big games, even from decades ago, when we call Carol, he has the answers.

The light blue that ODU sometimes wears, the color that the University of North Carolina insists is Carolina Blue, we called “Hudson Blue” at our University in honor of our good friend, Carol.

Carol attended every home football, basketball and baseball game even after he retired until the pandemic began. He stopped coming to ODU events because he knew that if he came down with COVID or the flu or even a cold, it could be deadly for his sister.

It was difficult for him to miss watching ODU’s best baseball team ever win 44 games this season. But like I said, it’s difficult to express how much Carol and Vanessa loved each other.

Carol, we can’t wait to see working again in the football press box, along press row at Chartway Arena or at Bud Metheny Stadium keeping score for the baseball team.

If you know Carol, reach out to him. If you want to send him a message, email it to me and I’ll make sure he gets it.

His sister was part of our family.

“Vanessa was an insititution at Old Dominion,” Selig said. “She’s been a part of the family here for decades.”

If nothing else, we owe it to her to take care of her brother.