Mama Pam serves up more than just food

Baylor's East Village Dining Hall is home to great food and even greater service by the well-loved worker Mama Pam. Brittany Tankersley | Photo Editor

By Olivia Lower | Guest Contributor

There is no record of who hired Pamela Davis-Silmon, better known as Mama Pam, to work in the Collins kitchen at Baylor University 18 years ago, but she’s been here ever since.

“My kids’ father had passed away, so they were getting social security checks,” Davis-Silmon said. “One day I was like, ‘I’m going to need a job. The social security checks are going to run out.’ So I just applied, and they called me on a Saturday. My boss at that time said, ‘Pam, we have never called anybody on a Saturday.’ To this day, they still do not know who called me on a Saturday.”

Starting as the first woman dishwasher at Baylor, Davis-Silmon has worked her way up to service supervisor for East Village Dining Hall, where she said she wants to stay to continue interacting with people.

Davis-Silmon said she has loved making students feel comfortable when they are away from home for the past 18 years.

“When I started at Collins, my boss at the time said, ‘When the girls come from upstairs they should feel like they’re coming into your kitchen,’” Davis-Silmon said. “When he told me that, I embraced that.”

Fulfilling her calling, Davis-Silmon said she tries to be of service to people and treat them like family without overstepping her role.

“Anything that I would want for someone to teach my own child if they were away from me, I’m going to do that,” Davis-Silmon said. “I’m going to fuss at you. I’m going to love on you. They call me Mama Pam because I’m going to embrace you and I’m going to help you.”

Saint Thomas, Pa., freshman Meredith Iverson said she sees Davis-Silmon every morning. She said Davis-Silmon holds her accountable and makes her feel loved.

“I have five siblings and a big family, and everything we’ve always done revolves around food,” Iverson said. “You come to the dining hall, but you still have someone that just cares and you know that she loves you. It’s been great to have that comfort in the presence of food. Even if it’s not like a big family dinner, it kinda makes it feel like that.”

With six children and 13 grandchildren, five of whom live with her, Davis-Silmon said sometimes finding the balance between work and home is hard.

“You just have to have a separation,” Davis-Silmon said. “Work is work, unless you have a student that needs you, and then there’s home. It’s kinda intertwined but not. It’s not easy, and a lot of times I take work home with me, but only if somebody told me something and we’re trying to figure it out. One of my students said his mom had pulled his money, and we went through a whole bunch of apps to try to find him funding. The balancing act is not easy, but when you see somebody do good that you helped, it’s rewarding.”

Because Davis-Silmon recently earned a degree from McLennan Community College in 2018, she said she understands the pressure school can cause.

“I was working 40 hours a week, and I was taking 13 hours,” Davis-Silmon said. “It was very hard. I was averaging five hours of sleep a day. My advisor used to be a dorm director here, and I was like, ‘I can’t do it. I’m dying.’ And she said, ‘You’re not dead.’”

Through it all, Davis-Silmon said she tries to be the person she didn’t have growing up.

“My granddaughter and I were talking, and she’s 9 [years old], and I said, ‘I fuss because I want you to be a better human,’” Davis-Silmon said. “‘When I tell you stuff, I’m old and I know. So when I get onto y’all, I’m trying to point you in the right direction.’ I was telling my granddaughter that once my grandmother died, I didn’t have anybody to guide me. I said, ‘That’s why I want you to be a better human. I’m teaching you everything nobody taught me.’”

Davis-Silmon said her past has helped her get to where she is today. She places importance on striving to act Christlike, knowing her worth as a woman and accepting when she’s at fault.

“My husband and I met at Alcoholics Anonymous,” Davis-Silmon said. “I thought I was having fun, but the more that I kept drinking, I saw that it was affecting my children. AA and Christianity are very important to me. It’s not something I’m constantly going to put in your face because you have to be open and willing, it has to be a conversation we both want to have.”

By sharing her story and wisdom, Davis-Silmon is known to easily connect with faculty and students.

Tara Rosecrants started working in the dining hall with Davis-Silmon before being moved to location supervisor in a different facility, but she said she still gets coffee at East Village every day just to see Davis-Silmon.

“She inspires me every day,” Rosecrants said. “She’s always been there to help me if I had any questions. If she couldn’t answer it, she always was very helpful getting it done. She’s very friendly, outgoing and creative.”

Although Davis-Silmon dreams of traveling worldwide someday, she said everyone wants to retire but sticks around for longer. Her family is another thing keeping her in Waco.

“I wanted to go to Ireland, and I said I was never coming back, but now I want to go to Seoul,” Davis-Silmon said. “I just want to go and experience the culture, but I still have the kids. It’s not fair to leave them.”