At the March 11 celebration of the life of Virginia Wing, more than 300 guests—and as many more watching from across the country on live-stream—cherished a lifetime of memories. They enjoyed reflections from the Rev. Tony Jarvis and Winsor's Sarah Pelmas, and Jennifer Slingerland Skeele '71, P'98, '02.
NOTE: Visit www.winsor.edu/virginiawing to view a video of the celebration, make a gift to the scholarship established in her memory, or read more about her life and legacy. A keepsake booklet of Miss Wing's words will be included with the spring Winsor Bulletin.
"Even now, if you close your eyes and listen for a moment, you can hear her voice and even imagine her words."
Listening to English teacher Jennifer Slingerland Skeele '71, P'98, '02, and other dear friends of Virginia Wing speak at the March 11, 2018, celebration, the 300 guests—and as many more watching from across the country on live-stream—cherished a lifetime of memories.
"If she were here today, she would know every one of you by name and by story, remembered in astonishing detail," Mrs. Skeele assured those gathered.
When Miss Wing died on February 5, 2018, at age 94, Winsor lost one its most iconic leaders. The March event was one of many ways in which her life and legacy will continue to be celebrated.
The Rev. Kate Baker-Carr '80 presided over the celebration and helped to shape a program that honored Miss Wing's own wishes. The words of Kate's prayer of thanksgiving beautifully captured the occasion: "we give thanks for the fullness of her life, a life of determination and moral clarity, of wisdom and service, of generosity and joy in the world's beauty."
In a poignant homily, the Rev. Tony Jarvis, headmaster emeritus of Roxbury Latin, described a life characterized by three great virtues: conviction, courage, and caring.
"I don't want to revisit the troubled and tumultuous late Sixties and early Seventies," he said. "But I want to express the hope that this school will always remember that it was Virginia Wing who marshaled the forces that preserved Winsor as a girls' school in the city. At the time, coeducation was all the rage, and Ginny was sailing very much against gale-force winds."
Her actions took courage. "Courage is costly," he noted, "but she paid the price." Daring to be unpopular, she rallied defenders to preserve Winsor's very essence.
"It was her finest hour," he reflected.
What people will remember most, he suggested, may be how deeply she cared about them. In Mrs. Skeele's words, "she was a master of remembering and caring."
Head of School Sarah Pelmas reflected on that "virtue," recounting wonderful conversations with Ginny about the lives of Winsor women. "She would recall names, thousands of names—your names!—and I could see her calling up your image in her memory, as fresh as if you were your 17-year-old self sitting with us at lunch. She would tell me a story about how smart, unique, and mischievous you were. And she loved you. So profoundly, and so wholeheartedly, and with such a clear sense of the extraordinary contribution you would make to the world."
Fittingly, each person who took the stage found wisdom in Miss Wing's words. Jennie remembered, after her mother's death, receiving Ginny's lovely note, quoting Lucien Price on how those we lose "live eternally in those twin immensities of the human heart, Love and Memory." Kate ended with a benediction from a 1988 commencement speech. Ms. Pelmas noted how "I could pick any one of her graduation speeches and give it myself this year, so perfect and true and eternal they are."
She turned to Stuart Little, pure Miss Wing, circa 1977. "No matter what was raging in the world around her, she always brought it back to the individual students, to their experience, their potential, and their fundamental goodness. But what most grips me about her 1977 speech is the undeniable truth in it for Winsor and for those of us—Carolyn, Rachel and me—whose journey was started with Miss Wing's battles and her victories. And she would say that her journey was described, faithfully and presciently, by Mary Pickard Winsor, and handed down to her through Katherine Lord, Frances Dugan, and Valeria Knapp."
"It ends always in the same way that Stuart Little ends: a non-ending, a journey, someone pointing north and searching for beauty, for justice, for friendship."
The celebration was filled with soaring music from pianist Lisa Taillacq, cellist Haley Kwoun '20, and Small Chorus members past and present. Three readings of Miss Wing's choice were shared by student Chloe Duval '19, alumna and past faculty member Pam Smith Henrikson '58, and a dear friend, the Rev. John Finley, head of Epiphany School.
Tony Jarvis ended with a story of dining out with Ginny one night. A parent with a child at both their schools came over to their table and joked, "Well I bet you two are plotting to change all of American education." He remembered how they laughed, and smiled to think back on what the two friends really had talked about nearly all evening: poetry. "What halcyon times. How blest we were."
He left the final word to Stephen Spender, whose poetry Miss Wing often quoted. "This is what Spender wrote about 'the truly great' whom nothing, not even death, can destroy:"
Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields,
See how their names are feted by the waving grass,
And by the streamers of white cloud,
And whispers of wind in the listening sky,
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire's centre.
Born of the sun, they traveled a short while toward the sun
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.