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Mississippi Arts: Sela Ward –...

Mississippi Arts: Sela Ward – Then and Now

By: Marilyn Tinnin - February 14, 2024

Actress Sela Ward poses for a portrait, Monday, March 28, 2011 in New York. (AP Photo/Jeff Christensen)

  • At 67, Meridian’s home-grown celebrity is pondering, “What comes next?”

Meridian’s home-grown Hollywood celebrity, the retired Sela Ward, recently called her manager to say, “I don’t think I’m done.” At 67, she is pondering, “What comes next?” From starring television roles and awards in that venue and also to cinematic acclaim, the ageless beauty proved her mettle across almost every genre of film for four decades. Sela won the hearts of fans all over the globe, but no one has loved her or respected her more than her fellow Mississippians. The Meridian native represents the values we Southerners claim as our own: family, a heart for others, and a sense of responsibility in that “To whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48).

Like many professionals juggling marriage and motherhood simultaneously, she now finds herself at “an interesting time and a transition time.” Her son Austin (25) and daughter Annabella have flown the nest and launched their dreams. Austin is a Los Angeles-based producer, songwriter, and artist. His music has amassed millions of streams across multiple platforms. Daughter Anabella, a graduate of Brown (during COVID), has acting in her blood. She lives in New York and has credits with roles in F.B.I. and Long and Slow Exhale. Anabella is also writing scripts with a few like-minded friends.

With a sense of gratitude for her children’s accomplishments, the very purposeful Sela totaled up the number of candles on her birthday cake and began to ask, “What am I doing for the rest of my life?”

Forty-five years ago, Sela graduated from the University of Alabama with a B.F.A. in art and advertising and headed to New York City for a job with a multi-media company. She made $6.50 an hour and immediately realized she would need a second job to stay in New York. Sela considered an offer to be a flight attendant with Eastern Airlines. A friend suggested she try modeling, telling her that modeling would pay more. It did, indeed! She did many television commercials, from Camay soap to Maybelline to Weight Watchers. After a few acting lessons, she landed a small soap opera role. Still, a few episodes into One Life to Live, she realized that whatever acting she wanted to do, this was not it.

She packed up her meager belongings and headed for Hollywood. A serendipitous meeting with a well-connected manager led to a minor role in Blake Edward’s film The Man Who Loved Women. In short order, Sela Ward was thrust into the middle of Hollywood culture.

A series of opportunities ensued. Although the evening soap opera, Emerald Point N.A.S. lasted only one season, Sela made an impression. More doors opened.

In 1991, she was cast as Teddy Reed in Sisters, the drama that ran for six seasons. “It was there where I learned the craft of acting,” she says. Sela loved becoming that one character — to study, figure out, and be Teddy week after week. She won an Emmy in 1994 as the “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Role.”

Behind the camera, however, life was not so glamorous. During those six years, Sela became a wife and a mother, real-life roles she cherished. The 14 to 16-hour workdays were the norm for ten months of the year. Sela left home before her babies were awake each morning and returned after they were asleep at night. On top of that brutal schedule, her beloved mother, Annie Kate, was losing her battle with ovarian cancer back in Mississippi. Sela was exhausted and ready for a change when Sisters ended.

Her favorite acting role was as Lilly Manning in the drama series Once and Again. The storyline centered around a divorced mother, remarriage, and the ups and downs of navigating romance, blended families, and preserving relationships. Sela again won an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress. “Everything congealed for me on that show. That is when I became most at ease in front of the camera.”

When you hear Sela talk about her childhood and true-life, close-knit family, you are not surprised that her favorite acting roles involve families. Family matters more than anything else at her core and in her heart of hearts.

Sela married Californian Howard Sherman in 1992, but not before she knew he understood her great attachment to all things “hometown.” They purchased property on the outskirts of Meridian where they could create “a little world where my children will always know this part of me.” Rose Cottage, their second home, is in the center of Honeysuckle Farms. Austin and Anabella have spent swaths of their growing-up years absorbing Mississippi summers, Thanksgivings, Christmases, and the ties that bind Southern families.

Sela describes that aspect of her intentional parenting as “enriching for them. I love going back to Meridian because it was a very grounding place for me. I never lost touch with what home was. Although I never went back there to live, at the same time, I never left either. Meridian is the perfect anecdote to big city living.”  

On one of her trips back home in the 1990s, she was invited to tour an emergency shelter for children. Sela’s eyes were opened to the heartbreaking reality of children taken from their parents because of neglect or abuse and placed in a shelter until the state could find more permanent homes. Two little brothers caught her eye. The state had terminated parental rights, and their siblings had been placed in various homes. “My heart just wrapped around these two little boys, and I could not get them out of my mind. Not only had their family been splintered, but they were soon to be sent to separate homes, too.” Sela found that scenario unacceptable.

Call it divine intervention, but she became obsessed with changing the protocol for children who had lived in such instability and chaos. She knew that keeping siblings together was the first step in giving them hope for their future. Hope Village is the fulfillment of Sela’s vision and efforts on behalf of children in desperate situations.

She obtained the money to purchase property that had belonged to the Mason organization. Through her many connections in Mississippi and elsewhere, she obtained funding to create Hope Village. One of her non-negotiables in jumping through all the legal hoops and licensing procedures was this: “We will keep siblings together.” Hope Village opened in 2002. It is more than a lifeline and a place of rescue for children. The campus consists of an emergency shelter for children ages birth to eighteen, three cottages licensed as long-term therapeutic residential facilities for children ages twelve to eighteen, two transitional homes, and a licensed therapeutic foster care program. It truly is a village of hope for children who have had every reason to lose hope in their short lives. By all means, visit to appreciate what Sela has managed to put together fully.

And when it comes to Sela Ward, there is more — much, much more!

This Mississippi jewel is unsure what the future might look like, but she slyly says, “We’ll see. We’ll see.” With great anticipation, Mississippi fans will stay tuned.

Fun Facts about Sela Ward

Her 2002 memoir Homesick was very hard to write. Those pushing her to write it wanted a typical “tell all salacious” tale. Sela made it a love letter to the memory of her mother and a vulnerable autobiography of her Southern roots.

Her favorite Mississippi authors are Eudora Welty and Willie Morris.

She speaks Spanish fluently and has to as a Los Angeles resident, but she has taken French and Italian. She does not consider herself “fluent”in either, but she hopes one day to be.

Food? All things Southern are her favorites. Catfish, cornbread dressing (skip the turkey), black-eyed peas and baby butterbeans. She collected cookbooks for a while thinking she would love to cook for relaxation one day. “One day” has yet to arrive.

She is not a social media fan, but says with resignation, “If I go back to work, I will just have to do it anyway. Sadly, that is the way of today’s world.”

What kind of roles will she play? “You can’t play a 35-year-old when you’re 67. I think for an actor — for me, anyway — I always want to do projects that have something to say.” She wants depth and substance.

About the Author(s)
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Marilyn Tinnin

Marilyn Tinnin is a lifelong Mississippian who treasures her Delta roots. She considers herself a forever student of politics, culture, and scripture. She was the founder and publisher of Mississippi Christian Living magazine. She retired in 2018 and spends her time free-lancing, watching Masterpiece series with her husband, and enjoying her grandchildren.