Frances Stebbins, Correspondent
[This is a memory from the many decades the author has been privileged to write for daily and weekly newspapers circulating in Western Virginia.]
It seems when one reaches a certain age, reading the obituary notices when the newspaper arrives – yes, as a retiree from the Roanoke Times I receive a free subscription – is a sad routine.
In a recent late-winter week, I learned of the deaths of three persons I’ve known and admired over the years. One, George A. Kegley, 93, I had known as a valued colleague on the staff of the daily paper from the days when late husband Charlie and I came to work there in 1953.
The others were known through the Salem church I attend. They were “Mimi” Givens, a long-time Salemite, and the Rev. John Spruhan, who with his wife, the Rev. Judy Spruhan, arrived in these parts from the West a little over a decade ago.
First, George. A Wytheville Lutheran through and through, he was a bit my senior, but we belonged to the same age. His generosity to his adopted community of the Roanoke Valley has been praised in the many places his life touched.
His interest in its history and that we both enjoyed various educational events held at Roanoke College in the summer when the regular students were away, often brought us together there. I called George “the energizer bunny.”
When my late husband Charlie Stebbins and I moved to the Roanoke Valley nearly 70 years ago for jobs at the evening newspaper, “The Roanoke World-News,” Kegley was on the staff of the competing morning paper, then as now, known as “The Roanoke Times.” Later, he wrote of the Business scene. Somewhere along the way, He married Louise Fowlkes, a descendant of the family of Fishburn who founded the newspapers in 1886.
The family lived in a historic home in Northeast Roanoke near Read Mountain. It included three sons and a daughter, Mary Louise, who resided with her busy father in his final years after he became a widower. He edited his church’s regional newsletter until two years ago and was an honored member of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Roanoke’s pioneer parish in Old Southwest.
In the newsroom of “The Roanoke Times” George’s piled-up desk was legendary, but he could always find what he needed in it. His obit picture had him smiling, but I remember him better pondering aloud in his Southwest Virginia accent about some perplexing issue. A newsman of the old school. Not a lot of us folk are left.
Mary Elizabeth Virtue “Mimi” Givens was another person blessed to remain active well into her 90s. Assisted by a neighbor, she got to church until a few months before her death. She was 98. Like Kegley, she was mother to four children.
A member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church for some 60 years, she commented often on the stories I wrote about the religious community. She was curious, I recall, about the Anglican Church of the Holy Spirit. The active parish in Southwest Roanoke County was formed about 30 years ago in a protest against what some regarded as too liberal cultural stands taken by the denomination on the national level.
“Mimi” Givens told me she wanted to know what this group found wrong with the church where she had long been active as a participant in nursing home ministry and in preparing the altar for worship each week. I gave her several newsletters I was then receiving from the church. Several weeks later, she declared she’d stay where she was.
At times, I’d see her too at the Salem Museum where we both were volunteer docents.
And finally, there was the Rev. John Spruhan who made me acquainted with an important group of folks I would never have known about had not he and his ordained wife, Judy, moved to Salem for retirement a decade ago. Prior to arriving in the Valley, the Spruhans worked as missionaries among the Lakotas, a Native American group living in the remote area of South Dakota. Friends from long ago caused them to migrate to Salem.
I valued John for his frequent messages he offered as part of the weekly Holy Communion service my church has offered for more than 20 years at the Virginia Veterans Care Center (VVCC) on Shenandoah Avenue Northwest. He had a way of meeting people where they are in his talks.
He came to know others in Salem through his interest in Friends of the Salem Library as well as in mental health organizations since the Spruhans’ daughter suffers from a chronic mental illness. Several recurrent health issues and COVID brought about his death at 71.
The column I wrote for the February 24, 2022, paper on the loss of beloved pets brought a number of responses as readers recalled their dogs and cats, many of which lived to a great age. Since all who responded are, like me, well into their senior years and often without nearby younger relatives who can assume care for an elderly animal who can cost a lot in veterinary services, declining to get another one is the wise decision.
We still are bereft though.