Valerie Sellors Dunnam

19 juillet 193215 septembre 2020

Valerie Dunnam’s fine 88-year adventure has come to an end. She passed away peacefully on September 15th with family members finally by her side after six months of Covid-forced separation. A beautiful woman inside and out, Val’s creed was kindness and her currency was friendship. Her life and spirit are defined by the endless acts of kindnesses she performed for so many people in her life. She will be missed beyond measure by her adoring family and friends.

Val was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Dixie Hill Sellors and Stanley Sellors. When she was one, her family moved to Houston where her father worked for the Shell Oil Company as a lobbyist. She and her beloved sister Sue were always proud of their Delaware Indian heritage on their mother’s side. Val attended Poe Elementary School, Lanier Middle School and Lamar High School. She kept in touch with many friends from her school days throughout her life. She graduated from SMU with a BA degree in 1954.

Val loved her time at SMU where she was an eager student, a member of the Tri Delta sorority, associate editor of the campus newspaper and homecoming queen. She was invited to return to SMU years ago to ride in the homecoming parade as the second-oldest-living homecoming queen – a recognition she received with humility and a wry sense of humor.

After college, Val went on a six-week biking trip across Europe with a sorority sister. She fondly recalled the many stories of that trip and referred to it as ‘the greatest adventure of her life.’ Despite a few serious falls, steep hills and several questionable youth hostels, she loved every minute. During that time, she and Air Force Lieutenant Samuel Ellis Dunnam enjoyed a written correspondence and became engaged shortly after her return home. Sam was always proud that his fine writing had won her over.

After marrying, Sam and Val lived in Shreveport where they had son Greig and then lived in Houston where Jeff was born. Later, they moved to Chicago, where Sam attended graduate school and Val was a busy mother of three young children with the arrival of their third child Virginia. Val would recount how the frigid cold in Chicago was no reason not to get outside with restless toddlers—she bundled up the gang and out they went. They later returned to Austin and welcomed their fourth child Russell.

Val and Sam were a great couple who complemented each other. Sam was a dreamer and risk taker; Val was grounded and steady. It wasn’t always perfect harmony, but it worked. They were devoted to each other for 62 years. They shared a love of nature, hunting, art, reading and serious discussions about world events, politics, philosophy and more. Their house was filled with kids and music. They loved to entertain friends and the parties often ended up with the adults dancing to the kids’ records in the front foyer. It was all a beautiful chaos.

Val was an active mom carting her kids all around town and often back to Houston to visit her parents. Saturdays were for swims at Barton Springs followed by hamburgers at The Holiday House. She spent many hours driving kids to music lessons, football games, tennis tournaments across the state and more.

Friends describe Val as exceptionally caring, kind and a whole lot of fun. Val had a genuine interest in others. She believed every person had a fascinating story and was determined to know it. She loved people from all walks of life and thought each one was important and special. Later in life, she used this curiosity to conduct many oral history interviews for the Austin History Center.

Val was the original straight arrow and rule follower. She was honest to a fault and would confess any transgressions well before being asked about them. Her friends referred to her as ‘Saint Val.’ She didn’t speed and she didn’t cuss, except once while riding the Space Mountain roller coaster, much to her children’s delight.

Nature was a source of constant inspiration and joy to Val. From duck hunts with Sam at the Port Bay Club to golfing with girlfriends in Austin. If Val was outdoors she was happy. Always a soft touch, Val was constantly responding and giving to an endless list of charities. Her heart was as big as the pile of solicitations in her mailbox. She could not bring herself to throw away any request for help.

After her children were grown, Valerie held fundraising positions for The University of Texas and later St. Stephens Episcopal School. Her community involvement included stints as president of Friends of the Austin Public Library and Planned Parenthood of Austin. She served on the Austin Public Library Commission and boards of the Austin History Center Association and the Junior League of Austin. A lover of books, Val helped revive the Friends of the Austin Public Library and organized its first Friends Book Sale.

As hard as the loss has been for Val’s family, they were greatly comforted by this beautiful image envisioned by her niece Alicia Vincent: “I like to think that Val is now with her lifelong love, Sam, and that they are off wandering in the autumn fields of the Texas Hill Country hand-in-hand, looking for birds and laughing together.”

The family would like to thank Ellie Mendoza for her joyful and compassionate care of Val and her genuine friendship. They are also most grateful for Val’s time at Querencia and the lovely caregivers, nurses, staff and especially the third floor Skilled Nursing staff who filled in for family over the past six challenging months.

Val is survived by her four children Greig Dunnam; Jeff Dunnam and wife Ruth; Virginia Lahourcade and husband Lee; and Russell Dunnam and wife Kate and nine cherished grandchildren: Hannah Dunnam, Sam Lahourcade, Emily Lahourcade, Rob Lahourcade, Carlisle Dunnam, Bridey Dunnam, John Durham, Virginia Durham and Mary Park Durham. She is also survived by nieces Valerie Finley Armstrong, Alicia Dunnam Vincent and Charlotte Dunnam as well as her five grand nephews and nieces. She was preceded in death by husband Samuel Ellis Dunnam , sister Sue Sellors Finley and brothers-in-law James Dunnam and Robert Dunnam.

A private family burial will take place on Saturday, September 20th. The family plans to celebrate Valerie’s life with friends at an appropriate time in the future.

Memorial contributions may be directed to The Library Foundation at P.O. Box 13201, Austin, Texas 78711; Mobile Loaves and Fishes on their website ‘mlf.org’ or the charity of one’s choice.


Valerie Sellors Dunnam


gretchen smith

8 avril , 2021

I am the sorority sister who went with Val and bicycled Europe. She and I lived in the tri delta house at smu and were very close friends. I am saddened to learn of her death as I visited with her by phone several times a year, but not in 2020. She always asked if I was still a conservative and I always replied "yes". She visited my family and I visited Sunset Blvd while in college. She was a great friend and I am thankful she came my way.

Paul & Patricia Youngdale

28 septembre , 2020

Paul first met Val when they worked together in the Development Office at UT Austin. She was a perfect co-worker, whose enthusiasm and kindness were contagious. Paul & Patricia shared some great times with Val & Sam at McDonald Observatory, where the brick in the visitor center courtyard honoring Sam's 70th birthday & the brick honoring Patricia, given by Paul, are nearly neighbors. Paul & Val also had some great bicycling excursions in Austin, along the Katy Trail, & along the canals of Holland. Val & Patricia were part of the Victorian Book Group, where for over 15 years they read a prodigious number of the novels, biographies, memoirs, & poems of that era. We will always treasure our memories of those experiences with Val!
Paul & Patricia Youngdale

Katherine Benbow Daniels

28 septembre , 2020

I’m so saddened to read of Val’s death, but the beautifully written obituary warms my heart! What a fabulous tribute to a woman so many loved and respected!
I met Val 45 years ago. I was newly married to one of Sam and Val’s old friends from Houston. Val was so kind and accepting of me as his second (and much younger) wife. This immediate kindness and inclusion meant a lot to me.
I always enjoyed being around Val. She was authentic, kind, perceptive and giving. She had an innate wisdom about life. She had a soft strength that she deployed in managing Sam, and some of his extravagances, that was fun to witness. The were quite the couple together!
We use to gather, every summer, in the Texas Hill Country where we lived for many years. We solved our own and the world’s problems over long dinners and swims in the Guadalupe River. We moved to Austin in the late 1980s and were fortunate to live near Sam and Val where we could have regular “salons” in their den and around their dining table.
The extended Sam Benbow family sends their condolences to you and your families - Virginia, Greig, Jeff and Russell. I feel truly honored to have known Val. I hope you all find increasing comfort, as time passes, in the treasure trove of memories of your beautiful Mom. Katherine Benbow Daniels

Virignia Lahourcade

26 septembre , 2020

Virginia Dunnam Lahourcade

26 septembre , 2020

Hello All,
This is Val’s daughter Virginia. I just wanted to express how deeply touched we are by your beautiful words and memories. I don’t know how to reach all of you so I wanted to express it here. My parents loved their friends. We have heard all of your names over the years and these friendships were a cherished part of their lives. Please know how much joy you brought them!
Many thanks,
Virginia Dunnam Lahourcade
Houston, Texas

Cindy & Gerald Stone

22 septembre , 2020

Val was such a cheerful friend, always curious and enthusiastic. Her thoughtfulness and kindness affected everyone who knew her. She and Sam were such a fun pair! May happy memories be a comfort to you.

PS. I (Cindy) lived in the Pemberton house before they bought it. Val had the perfect vision to make it gorgeous.

Sue Leander

22 septembre , 2020

Working with Val at the UT Development Office in the 1980s was both a great treat and an unparalleled learning experience in the true meaning of human relations. Always thoughtful of the issue and people involved, from both a professional and sensible standpoint, she was a fabulous resource for all levels of administration. And, she was fun! Along with another colleague, we would take our work break in the parlor of the Littlefield Home (offices were upstairs) and …….. read poetry! Then, there was an era when we did deep-breathing exercises! You can do a lot in 15 minutes. We stayed in touch over the years, including this one, with worry creeping in when I could not reach her the last several months. God rest your beautiful soul, sweet Val. Your memory will always make me smile.

sandy silver

21 septembre , 2020

It's Sandy Kern and I wanted to tell how much Val meant to me. She and Betty Wilson were just a few years older and provided mentoring to me when we moved into the Pemberton neighborhood in 1971...which I clearly needed. I lived there from 1971-79 and enjoyed it immensely....especially the kids and the events in "the circle". I remember hiring Russell in the late 80's in a ski store in the Arboretum.....and of course....enjoying Kate as a student at WHS.
I have lived on 6th street for the past 32 years and would run into Val at Whole Foods after walking in the last few years. She always made me feel loved....as I know she did you. My love to you all, Sandy

Melinda Abell

21 septembre , 2020

Virginia and Lee,
Val will be so very missed by all the Abell family. Such and exceptional friend to our dearest Ann Rivers. I love all the sentiment about how delightful, fun, and authentic she was as a person. When I saw her she was always quick to inquire about my family. I know her beautiful memory will be close to your heart always. ❤️
Melinda and Joe Abell

Frank Bash

20 septembre , 2020

Jessie and I are devastated to learn of Val’s death. She and Sam and we shared many a happy time together including at McDonald Observatory where Sam was a member of the Board of Visitors. Val was one of the kindest and most gracious people we have ever known. I will never forget her smile or her thoughtfulness. She will be greatly missed.