The lunchtime customers walked up to the restaurant's front door Tuesday, taking in the bad news.
Mama Hill had died.
Inez Hill, 94, known to virtually everyone around town as "Mama Hill," was one of the "H's" in the famed H&H Restaurant on Forsyth Street in downtown Macon. The restaurant has gained international fame for its soul food cooking and for being a favorite haunt of the Allman Brothers Band. Mama Hill co-owned the restaurant with "Mama Louise" Hudson, who cooked for the band members when they were getting their start in the early 1970s.
"She was a very sweet lady," said Marques Wright, who had planned Tuesday to eat at H&H with fellow Medical Center of Central Georgia worker Doug Albright.
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"We eat here a lot," Albright said.
The restaurant, and Mama Hill herself, have been something of a Macon institution for decades. In addition to its connection with the Allman Brothers, the restaurant, which opened in 1959, was one of the featured stops for Oprah Winfrey during the talk show host's tour of Macon last month. Both Mama Hill and Mama Louise were featured during one of the show's episodes.
"She loved some Oprah — Oprah and Dr. Phil," Mama Louise said Tuesday. "She was thrilled to death (to be on the show) and really glad she (saw) Oprah. She was excited to see herself on TV. People were always coming in to meet her."
Mama Hill was born Oct. 13, 1913, in Warrenton and moved to Macon in 1950 when her husband, Paul, landed a job at Robins Air Force Base.
A mother of seven, a grandmother of 16, a great-grandmother and even a great-great grandmother, Mama Hill loved going to work at the restaurant and never once considered retirement, several members of her family said.
"She never took a day off," said her great-grandson, Javosky Harden. "She worked every day, even Sundays. She woke up every day at 4 a.m. and would be at the restaurant at 5 a.m. and would work until closing (at 4 p.m.) She used to say she loved work."
Mama Hill said as much in a Telegraph interview last year.
"I look forward to coming to work every day," she said at the time. "I'm going to do it as long as the Lord keeps me going. I've been working all my life. When I hear others talk about how hard it is, I tell them it's nothing compared to plowing behind a mule all day."
Monday morning, Harden took Mama Hill to a doctor's appointment, and everything checked out fine, he said. Though Mama Hill was a diabetic and had recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure, Harden said she was in good health considering her age.
But Harden said his great-grandmother became ill Monday afternoon.
"She was disoriented and not making sense when she talked," he said. "She kept trying to get up and move around. She broke out into a sweat."
Harden called an ambulance, and Mama Hill was taken to The Medical Center. Doctors told the family she had a brain aneurysm, he said. She died about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday.
"It was just a shock," Mama Louise said.
Family and friends reminisced Tuesday about a life well lived.
"What a sweetheart," said businessman Bill Lucado, who has been an H&H customer for 20 years. "I'm in tears. God, what can I say? She was a real queen, a lady. I'm absolutely speechless. ... They don't make ’em like that (anymore). ... She would make the biscuits and the lemonade in the back. And whenever you were feeling down, you'd go back there, and she would add sunshine to your life."
"She never met a stranger," said her daughter, Bonnie Hill. "She was the sweetest mama you ever wanted to have."
Members of the family laughed while remembering Mama Hill's oft-repeated sayings. During an argument, she'd say, "Hush your fuss, crack your crust, ain't nobody here but us!"
When organizing things, Mama Hill often said, "Everybody's in table order."
Because of the number of family members expected to come into town for the funeral, Mama Louise said arrangements were incomplete late Tuesday. It will be next week at least, and possibly after the new year, before the restaurant re-opens, she said.
That might be a long wait for some longtime patrons.
"She was everybody's mother," said Stephanie Bowman, one of Mama Hill's granddaughters. "She fed everybody's children."
Material from The Telegraph's archives was used in this report.