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Virginia Williams

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Williams, Virginia McNaughton

Virginia McNaughton Williams, 90, died on May 26, at Azura Memory Care in Rib Mountain, of complications of Alzheimer's disease.

Virginia was known to all who crossed her path for her love of the outdoors; an instinct for understated detail in her domestic surroundings; an informed love of travel and medieval art and architecture; a devotion to music both sacred and popular; a selfless spirit of volunteerism; and a strong, though non-combative, commitment to equality and peace.

She had many talents, but perhaps the greatest was for making everyone feel welcome and wanted, in her house, in her church, and in her community. She was truly a woman for others, starting with her beloved husband, Tom, and their four children.

Virginia was born Nov. 13, 1922, in Kingsport, Tenn., to George C. McNaughton and Irma McNaughton (Hackendahl). Virginia attended Madison West High School and started dating Thomas E. Williams, who sang with her in the choir at First Congregational Church. Both continued their studies at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, although Tom was called to active duty in Europe in 1943. Virginia received her degree in textile chemistry in 1944, writing a thesis on the laundering of wool. After college she worked for the Tennessee Eastman company and the American Honey Institute. When World War II ended, she joyfully welcomed Tom home on Christmas Eve, 1945. The two were married on June 26, 1948, and moved to Wausau.

Much of Virginia's community service was offered through the First Presbyterian Church of Wausau. She was ordained as an Elder and taught Sunday School, sang in the choir, played handbells, and served on the Session, the Library Committee, the Church and Society Committee, and in the Women's Association. She assisted with the church's adult education program, researched revisions for the hymnal, and helped create Phoenix House, a group home where minors who were wards of the county could get a fresh start. She was a superb cook who often provided hospitality when church groups or theologians visited from out of town. Besides the church, Virginia volunteered with Mobile Meals, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, the American Field Service, and numerous other service organizations. After Pope John XXIII sought to promote greater understanding among religious faiths, she helped to organize the Ecumenical Lay Academy.

Virginia was active in the "one man, one vote" movement, which sought to keep congressional districts and other legislative bodies properly balanced, in keeping with the U.S. Constitution's equal-protection clause. She joined the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, and was elected state treasurer and a member of the state board.

When the first Hmong families arrived in Wausau from Laos, in the late 1970s, Virginia volunteered to help them settle in, demonstrating laundromats and teaching English. When an English as a Second Language program was established in Wausau, she became one of its regular instructors--her first paid job in more than a quarter century.

After their children grew up and left home, Virginia and Tom indulged their curiosity about the world by travelling to Europe, China, Turkey, Mexico, Alaska, and South America's Tierra del Fuego. They also visited Uglitz, Wausau's sister city in Russia, while it was still in the Soviet Union, demonstrating their belief that no problem—even the global arms race—was insurmountable, if people could just learn to talk with each other.

Virginia was preceded in death by her sister, Janet Schlatter, in 2001 and her husband Tom in 2009. She is survived by four children, Janet (Ted) Reinke, of Middleton; Mary (Lawrence) Walsh, of Philadelphia, Pa.; Tom (friend, Ellen Yoshihara), of Evanston, Ill.; and Barbara (Jack) Parent of Port Ludlow, Wash.; as well as seven grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at the First Presbyterian Church of Wausau, at 2 p.m. on Thursday, June 20, with Pastor Joy Nelson-Jeffers officiating. Burial will be in the Pine Grove Cemetery, Wausau. Helke Funeral Home, Wausau, is assisting the family.

The family thanks the staff of Azura Memory Care for their gentle and compassionate care in Virginia's last years.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the First Presbyterian Church of Wausau, or the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.

Published in the Wausau Daily Herald on June 14, 2013
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