You are the hero of your own story

virgie goatsAre you living authentically? Someday, someone will reflect on that question. However, since the person will be speaking at your funeral, you won’t be there.

We often wait until someone dies before we tell them how much they have meant to us. The word eulogy derives from Greek and means praise, although people generally associate a eulogy with death and a memorial service, an event that happens when the guest of honor is absent, silent, and unable to bask in the love and appreciation offered.

VirgieIn that spirit, this eulogy honors my friend, Virgie, who is full of life!

The world always becomes fuller for someone who grows into the height of humanity; there are always more interesting fishing-hooks; the number of stimuli is continually on the increase, and similarly the varieties of pleasure and pain. Nietzsche

Before moving to Missouri, I joked that I was heading to Misery. Leaving friends, job, and city amenities for a new place still stung after 25 years of military moves. I wasn’t excited about the assignment to “Fort Lost in the Woods” in the rural Ozarks. However, at one of my first official gatherings (that I was in charge of due to my husband’s position), I met Virgie, a 70 year old Air Force veteran and retired civil servant public affairs officer. She was hard to miss; sporting a crew cut dyed bright red, a jaunty leopard-skin cap, and holding court for a circle of admirers.  We became friends. Over time, I learned that her appearance was the outward face of a passionate soul. She dressed to suit herself, not to fit in or fade into the background.

Virgie’s interests mirror her individualistic appearance: legion and unpredictable. No telling where her fancy would take her. One of her adventures was walking the length of the Katy Trail in Missouri.  She accomplished this over a number of months by having fellow Rotarians help with the logistics of the walk.  The community commemorated her achievement by dedicating a bench in her honor on the trail. In conversations, Virgie’s responses could range from provocative to prodding. She was willing to play devil’s advocate by asking challenging questions. She didn’t suffer fools gladly. Don’t parrot an opinion without facts to back up your position or she would call you on it. Although she was kind, you knew when she disagreed. She could be a troublemaker. Virgie is a former college professor who left the classroom over what she viewed as administrative interference. Rather than submit to a Dean’s insistence that she use a particular textbook, she resigned her position. If something engaged her and was worth fighting for, Virgie would gather the troops and spearhead change.

“We need in every community a group of angelic troublemakers.” ― Bayard Rustin

During the two years I lived in Pulaski County, Virgie revealed some personal heartbreaks. During World War II, Virgie and her sister Carol lived with their grandmother while her parents worked out of state supporting the war effort.  Her sister died young of cancer, followed by her father’s death. Virgie supported her husband, Mike (1940-2011) with his challenges including larynx cancer, while caring for her mother (1919 – 2013). A Virgie-ism reveals how she spun sorrow to gold: “Every time I didn’t get pregnant, I earned another academic degree.” Virgie never gave birth to children but became the mother of many initiatives. The testing and trials she endured built resilience, which helped her deal with a failed back surgery. The operation not only didn’t alleviate the pain, but sapped her endurance, and led to the need for mobility assistance, including a quad cane she named “Waldo” and a walker “Bill” that is now a constant companion. This setback slowed her and forced her to concentrate on essentials including finding “adoptive parents” for her myriad activities.

Some people focus on pain, which diminishes them and can turn them into victims. Others accept the things they cannot change, re-order their lives, and work with the hand they’re dealt. Virgie represents this latter category. All experiences are beneficial, even when they hurt. Virgie epitomizes servant leadership. Her involvement in the Fort Leonard Wood community and with the State of Missouri is broad and deep. She would take the lead on a project, then hand it off when the groundwork was laid. Some of her commitments include Rotary, Committee of 50, USO, Red Hats, Great Books, and Old Settler’s Day; this list is incomplete because Virgie is ever evolving. One thing is consistent: if you want to know about what is happening in the community, Virgie is the person to ask. And if the project has sparked her interest, she is organizing it.

Since Mike’s death, Virgie’s primary passion has been the Fort Leonard Wood Veterans Cemetery in Waynesville, MO and an affiliated non-profit: Assistance Association Missouri Veterans Cemetery (AAMVC) which renders compassionate support to veterans and families, while enhancing the appearance and operation of the Missouri Veterans Cemetery. During a visit, Virgie showed me Mike’s grave and the spot reserved beside him for her.

A dynamo, entrepreneur, professor, philosopher, philanthropist, activist, and “continuous poet of life:”[1] Virgie has spent a lifetime blazing her own trail. She embodies passion, self-awareness, and intensity.  She lives the questions and continually discerns what makes her life fuller and yet simpler, as she distills to the essence, releasing activities and possessions that she has outgrown, and growing in grace and wisdom. Evolving until the end…

© Joan S Grey, 26 OCT 18
IndexCardCure™: A profile in courage


[1] Nietzsche, section 301.


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