My comments at VJC's funeral Mass and memorial service. I think they're worth sharing.
Thank you all for attending Virginia’s funeral Mass, and for your love, prayers and support for us and for each other as we today commend her to God.
My mother was an extraordinary woman. She was complicated. She was compassionate. She was demanding – of herself and of all of us. She was broken. She healed and was herself healed. She taught and she learned. She gave us all many gifts of herself – for which we are deeply grateful.
I’ll share three stories from our life that for me capture Virginia’s spirit and being.
In 1977, the Oregon Health Sciences University School of Nursing received their first computers. No one –faculty, staff, or students – knew what to do with them. I’d been taking programming classes at OMSI for some time, so I was drafted to help set up the two computers and find ways for students to use them – which I was able to do, thanks in part to watching Virginia prepare for and teach her students. After I’d set up the computers, I asked my mother if she’d like to learn to use them. She looked at me with a certain contempt and steely resolve: “No Scott. What on earth could a machine do to help me or my nursing students take care of patients better?”
That look, and her tone said a lot, as did the words. I’m sure that some of you will agree, 35 years later, that Virginia was at least in part correct.
One thing about Virginia that many of you may not know was her love of speed. She loved moving quickly – running, swimming and skiing when she was younger, walking and driving when she was older. In 1985, she bought a new car – a maroon Saab 900 – and we were driving to San Francisco to visit her sister. Driving down Interstate 5, just past the California boarder, Mom turned to me and said, “Let’s see how fast the car will go.”
Cat, Catnip. I pushed the pedal to the floor. The car accelerated and soon we were traveling over 100 mph. The stereo was playing Ella Fitzgerald and Andre Previn performing Gershwin. Not surprisingly, we soon saw flashing lights in the rear view mirror. We pulled over, and the California Highway Patrol officer walked up to the car. I rolled down the driver’s side window, and spoke to the officer.
Officer: “Hello. Did you know how fast you were going?”
Scott: “Officer, I believe we were going about 110 miles per hour.”
Virginia – leaning across me to speak to the officer, with a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye: “Officer, I asked my son to see how fast the car would go.”
Officer – trying to contain his laughter: “Ma’am, I see. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
We received a $25 ticket for exceeding the 55 mile per hour speed limit. We immediately paid it at the Shasta County Courthouse, and continued to San Francisco driving no more than 60 miles per hour.
But Virginia knew how fast her car could go.
One other moment to share: My mother’s body was truly a broken vessel – she had broken her neck, she was a cancer survivor, she had osteoarthritis, and had multiple surgeries and joint replacements – but she wasn’t about to let any of that stop her. Until very late in her life, she kept up a schedule of activities that would make many younger people – including me – exhausted.
Mom loved Mt. Hood and Timberline Lodge, and spent many hours in the lodge while I was skiing as a child. My partner Graham and I were visiting her five years ago, and had planned a trip to visit Timberline Lodge with her – knowing that it was far from the most friendly place for someone with significant limitations in mobility. After arriving there, Virginia was bound and determined to revisit most of the places that she knew and loved from long ago. And she did – ascending and descending stairs that we thought would stop her.
When we asked her how she was able to do all that she did without assistance, she said with a twinkle in her eye, a smile, and a hint of the pain she was undoubtedly experiencing: “Oh, I save up my energy for those things that are really special.”
And again: Well.
While we have lost Virginia’s physical presence, her spirit and her indomitable energy will always be with us. We owe it to her to find and express our spirit and our energy, and to teach our families and students and colleagues how to be so engaged, and so part of the world as was Virginia Jean Cory.