The World Should Be Left a Better Place

Ninety-three-year-old Virginia Felson has long been an idealist committed to helping people, firm in her belief that “you should leave the world a better place.” She has always been a role model to her children and grandchildren, each of whom has demonstrated a similar social conscience.

Three years ago her daughter Nancy and daughter-in-law Sharon nominated her for the 2005 Enquirer Woman of the Year award, applauding her commitment to Cincinnati and to her vast network of family and friends. “Virginia maintains a zest for life,” they wrote, “and remains relentless in pursuing her ideals with compassion, creativity, and humor.”

Virginia has worked for the Public Welfare Department, the Ohio Employment Center, and the Salvation Army. Over the years she has read for the blind over the radio and actively volunteered for the American Red Cross, Camp Joy, and the Cincinnati Public Schools. As vice-chair of the Jewish Center Speakers’ Forum, she was instrumental in inviting such speakers to Cincinnati as Martin Luther King, Jr., Margaret Mead, and Alistaire Cooke.

In her 90s, recognizing that her elderly neighbors needed a sense of community, she took it upon herself to organize social gatherings and speakers at her apartment building.

On a recent visit, Virginia recited anecdote after anecdote. She has good reason to have so many interesting stories to tell. Her father was an inventive optometrist with a passion for saving eyes. Her husband was a world-renowned radiologist and chairman of Radiology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and many local hospitals affiliated with the university. And all her children are creative, dynamic individuals making their marks on the world. There seems to be an infinite amount of family material from which Virginia can draw.

In 2000 Virginia moved to her present home, a comfortable condo on the nineteenth floor of a Hyde Park high rise building, offering pastoral views from her balcony. She quickly became beloved by the other residents as the person in charge of social activities, a role from which she only recently has resigned.

Relishing connections with others, Virginia has served on the board of the Women’s University Club and has belonged to a profusion of discussion circles, including a book club, gourmet club, contemporary writer’s club, and playwright club. A regular at bridge games at the Hyde Park Senior Center, she is known for her propensity for flamboyant head gear and has been dubbed “the Hat Lady.”

She relates well to younger people, often preferring their company to that of older people who, she says, tend to discuss their ailments too much.

Virginia is crazy about her five children, eight grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. “They’ve all found their passions,” she comments, “and they’re all workaholics like Ben.”

Virginia was always associated with having a serendipitous quality. “One never knew where she was headed,” says Nancy. “She had a spontaneity, an open-endedness.” But according to Virginia, times have changed. “Now as I age I’m trying to become more orderly, attempting to find a place for everything to help me remember where things are.” She has a long-time habit of sleeping with chopsticks by her bedside to remind her not to eat too much, and dumbbells lay by the bed as a prompt to exercise.

Her combined temperament of jocularity and lack of inhibition recently led her to throw a lively pre-funeral party for herself so that she could share in the celebration with friends and family. “I’ve had a happy life,” Virginia declares. “Why not enjoy saluting it too?”

Virginia Felson