James William Henry Sell passed away in his sleep at home on September 30, 2022, in Norfolk, VA. He died on the eve of his 80th birthday with his loving wife of 54 years, Ellen, by his side.
Born on October 1, 1942, in Charleston, WV, Jim was the second child and only son of James Nathaniel Sell and Helen DePue Sell. He grew up in the South Hills neighborhood of Charleston and graduated from Charleston High School in 1960.
The fall of that same year, Jim enrolled at West Virginia University (go Mountaineers!). He graduated with a history degree in 1964, but clearly his greatest accomplishment during his time in Morgantown was meeting and falling in love with Ellen Dorothy Major. He and Ellen married in 1968 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, PA, and honeymooned at the Bedford Springs Resort in Bedford, PA (fifty years later, Jim and Ellen returned to Bedford Springs to celebrate their Golden Anniversary with their 2 children and 5 grandchildren).
After his undergraduate studies, he enrolled in Law School at WVU for a year, before he came to realize his true calling to serve in the Episcopal Church. He enrolled at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, VA, and graduated in 1969 with his Master in Divinity. He subsequently began an extended career in the Episcopal ministry, and he took great pride in noting that every church he was a part of grew and flourished. Perhaps second only to his family, it was these churches and the people within them that most fed his soul and gave his life purpose. This journey took him from St. Martin’s-In-The-Fields in Summerville, WV; to Christ Memorial Episcopal Church in Williamstown, WV; to St. James Church in Lewisburg, WV; to St. Mary’s Church in Sparta, NJ. In the late ‘80s, he served as an Archdeacon in the Diocese of Newark, before returning to church ministry in 1990 as the Rector of Christ & St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Norfolk, VA.
Jim “retired” in 2005, but the call of the church was strong, and spent the next 8 years as the Interim Rector at parishes in Severna Park, MD; Princeton, NJ; New Haven, CT; and Virginia Beach, VA, before finally retiring for good.
In addition to his passions for his family and his church, Jim also enjoyed writing, reading, playing golf, traveling the world, and being “Papa Jim” to his grandchildren. He was an amazing man with a big heart, and he will be missed deeply by all that knew him.
Jim is survived by his wife, Ellen; his son and daughter-in-law, James Andrew Sell and Neelam Kharod Sell of Fair Haven, NJ, and their children, Aakash, Roshan, and Raina; and his daughter and son-in-law, Kathryn Sell Garcia and Christian Garcia Fuentes of Washington, DC, and their children, Elena and Marco. He is also survived by his sister and brother-in-law, Kathryn Sell (Cappy) Chillingworth and Peter Chillingworth, and their children, Anne, John, and Emily; and his sister-in-law, Jean Major. He was preceded in death by his brother-in-law, Robert Major.
A memorial service in celebration of Jim’s life will be held on Saturday, November 12th at 2 p.m. at Christ & St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Norfolk, VA. The service will be followed by a reception one block away at the Ghent United Methodist Church (parking available).
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Jim Sell Community Conversations Fund. The Fund supports Jim’s legacy of tolerance, kindness, and generosity of spirit. It seeks to empower our community, in the broadest sense, to engage in meaningful, productive conversations that will inspire us to be the best version of ourselves. To learn more and to support the Fund in Jim’s memory, go to christandstlukes.org/jimsellfund.
To share condolences with the family, please visit www.hdoliver.com.
Finally, it’s worth sharing a sentiment Jim wrote in his 2015 memoir titled, Learning to Live – An American Story: “I have lived in wonderful places, met thousands upon thousands of amazing people and had experiences I never imagined would be mine. I aspired to a life of tender mercies… While I have hoped I would be blessed with a long, abundant and healthy life, I recognized that the proverbial tractor-trailer truck could blow me away at any moment. So every night, rather than pray the prayer of death I was taught as a child, I have called out to God and said, ‘Oh God, I love it.’ ”
Information submitted by H.D. Oliver Funeral Apartments, Inc. of Norfolk, VA.