Virginia Ruth Kilpatrick Shehee
SHREVEPORT, LA - Former State Senator and local business woman, civic leader, and patron of the arts, Virginia Ruth Kilpatrick Shehee left her extraordinary life on July 6, 2015. Funeral services will be held at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 275 Southfield Road, Shreveport, LA 71105 at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, July 10, 2015. Interment will follow at Forest Park Cemetery, 3700 St. Vincent Avenue, Shreveport, LA 71103. Officiating will be The Reverend Paul D. Martin. The family will receive friends from 4:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, July 9, 2015 at Rose-Neath Funeral Home, 1815 Marshall Street, Shreveport, LA 71101.
A fifth generation Texan, descended from one of The Old Three Hundred families who settled with Stephen F. Austin in 1824, Virginia was born in Houston on July 12, 1923 to Nell Peters and Lonnie Benjamin Kilpatrick. Her parents moved to Shreveport during the Great Depression and founded both Kilpatrick Life Insurance Company and Rose-Neath Funeral Home. Lonnie was a man of vision imparting this trait to his daughter who began working at Kilpatrick Life Insurance while still in high school with summers spent as a secretary for future Governor Jimmy Davis. She often enjoyed visiting Davis and his family in the Governor's Mansion. Governor Davis took advantage of their lifelong friendship to later lobby Senator Shehee to make his song, You Are My Sunshine, the official state song of Louisiana. She was a proud graduate of C.E. Byrd High School and attended Stephens College for one year. Her father missed her so much that he bribed her with the promise of a Ford Roadster to come home. She then attended Centenary College of Louisiana where she obtained a Bachelor's of Arts in English in 1943 and was a member of Zeta Tau Alpha Fraternity. This began a deep-rooted affiliation with Centenary where Virginia was a Trustee and led to the creation of Kilpatrick Auditorium and Shehee Stadium. Three of her children and two of her grandchildren followed her attending Centenary. After graduation, she worked on her Master's Degree in Social Work at Southern Methodist University.
A trip to Germany to visit friends after World War II became an unexpected opportunity to work for the American Red Cross. Virginia lived and worked in Germany, remarkably participating in the Berlin Airlift. Subsequently, she married John Andrew Guy, and they moved to Washington, D.C. She returned to Shreveport with their three children, Shane, Andy, and Nell, and resumed her work in the family businesses as a funeral director and insurance professional. Virginia married William Peyton Shehee, Jr. and had their daughter, Margaret. Together they led Kilpatrick Life Insurance Company to become the largest domestic life insurance company in Louisiana. In 1971, upon the untimely death of her mother in a plane crash, Virginia became President/CEO of both companies and at the time of her retirement was elected Chairman Emeritus. Under her leadership, Kilpatrick Life Insurance Company grew to 10 offices in Louisiana and Texas, and Rose-Neath has 12 funeral homes and 3 cemeteries in Louisiana.
Virginia K. Shehee is regarded as one of the most well-known businesswomen and philanthropists in the State of Louisiana. Her interest in politics led to being elected on her own merits as the first woman in the Louisiana State Senate. Her political trailblazing opened the door for those seeking public office for generations to come. She proudly served the 38th District, and after her term ended, her door was always open to her constituents and many aspiring politicians who sought her counsel.
Her commitment to community spanned cultural, civic, and academic spheres, which led to volunteering time, talent, and resources to serve in various capacities. She was Chairman Emeritus of Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana, The State Fair of Louisiana, National Board of Community Renewal International, and Shreveport Symphony Orchestra. After Shreveport Symphony Maestro John Shenaut showed Virginia the dilapidated state of The Strand Theatre, Virginia along with Jim Montgomery and Judd Tooke not only rescued the historic Strand from the wrecking ball, but helped restore the theatre to its original glory. Virginia served as a Past Chairman of Life Insurers Conference, Louisiana Insurers' Conference, Louisiana Life Insurance Guarantee Association, and past Board Member of American Council of Life Insurance. Kilpatrick Life and others in the insurance industry honored Virginia with The Kilpatrick Life Insurance Company Endowed Chair for Insurance and Financial Service at Louisiana State University in Shreveport (LSUS). She was a member of Shreveport Committee of 100, served as Chairman of Louisiana Committee of 100 for Economic Development, and was a supporter of Council for a Better Louisiana and SECURE Louisiana. Virginia was a fervent supporter of the armed services and was honored to serve on the Board of Trustees for National D-Day Museum in New Orleans. She was also elected and served as the first woman Senior Warden of St. Paul's Episcopal Church. She was invited to become one of the first women members of Rotary Club of Shreveport, where she became a Paul Harris Fellow in support of Rotary Foundation, and was a member of Business Committee for The Arts, as well as a Fellow, Royal Society of the Arts in London, England.
A champion for education, she was on the Southfield School Foundation Board, life member of Centenary College of Louisiana Board of Trustees and member of Alumni Hall of Fame, and named "Sweetheart For Life" by the Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity in which her son, son-in-law, and grandson are all members. She served on the Louisiana State University Board of Supervisors and was named a Distinguished Business Executive on Campus at LSUS as well as a member of the LSU Alumni Hall of Distinction. Nicholls State University then inducted her into the Women in Government Hall of Fame, she was a member of the Transition Team on Higher Education for Governors Buddy Roemer and Mike Foster, Co-Chair of Governor Bobby Jindal's Transition Committee on Ethics, Board of Directors for Louisiana Governor's Mansion Foundation, and served on the Judicial Council of the Louisiana Supreme Court. She received an Honorary Doctorate of Law from Centenary College of Louisiana and an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches. She was especially proud to be named one of the first five members of the C.E. Byrd High School Hall of Fame.
Special honors and awards include the Benemerenti Medal conferred by Pope John Paul II and presented to her by Bishop William Friend of the Catholic Diocese of Shreveport for outstanding community service. In 1996, the Biomedical Research Institute was named in her honor. Although she was given credit for the advancement of Biomed, she was quick to credit those whose leadership preceded hers. She was inducted as a Business Laureate into Junior Achievement of North Louisiana Business Hall of Fame, received the Shreveport Medical Society award for Outstanding Contribution to the Advancement of Medicine, Clyde E. Fant Memorial Award for Community Service, and was the first woman to be named "Mr. Shreveport" by the Optimist Club. Virginia was inducted into the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame and named a Louisiana Public Broadcasting Louisiana Legend.
For her generosity and vision, she received a host of awards; some of which include the following: Liberty Bell Award from Shreveport Bar Association; Arthritis Foundation Award; the Patron of Architecture from Louisiana Architecture Foundation; "Pilot of the Year" of LSUS; and the Philanthropy, Volunteerism, and Community Leadership Award from Louisiana Association of Non-Profit Organizations. She also received the Distinguished Sales Award from Sales & Marketing Executives of Shreveport/Bossier, and Samaritan Counseling Center's Samaritan Award. From the Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, she was the first woman to be named Business Leader of the Year and was honored to have the Virginia Shehee Service Award established by Southern Hills Business Association. From Rotary Club of Shreveport, she received the Service Above Self Award; in recognition of her service, March of Dimes named her Citizen of the Year; and Volunteers of America bestowed the Light House Award. One of her most cherished honors was receiving the Mary Johnston Award for Outstanding Service from Gardens of the American Rose Society, which her mother had been instrumental in bringing to Shreveport.
She will be remembered for her love of family and friends, books, travel, and animals. If you came to her office, you were sure to meet one of her four-legged family members whose companionship Virginia treasured. She was a voracious reader and book lover, even chairing the Southfield School Book Fair. She cherished Centenary College, in all its many dimensions, attending as many baseball and basketball games and choir concerts as her schedule permitted. Having served on the LSU Board of Supervisors, she cheered for her LSU Tigers and loved Tiger Stadium on Saturday nights. You could find her many Spring and Summer evenings at Cargill Park cheering on her beloved Thunder Lizards softball teams. She had a gift for laughter and putting everyone at ease, and her "never met a stranger" attitude extended to so many facets of her life, from her dedicated support of The State Fair Junior Livestock Sale to portraying Martha Washington in "Shreveport Junior League Follies." A longtime supporter of local arts, Virginia took great pleasure in attending performances ranging from amateur to professional companies, delighting in the latest offering at The Strand to Shreveport Symphony's new season. Virginia loved to travel the world with her dear family and friends, looking forward to the adventure which lay ahead. A longtime flyer with Delta Airlines, they acknowledged her support by designating her with the title of "Flying Colonel" long before such distinctions occurred.
Virginia was preceded in death by her parents, husband, and sister, Ann Shane Kilpatrick. She is survived by her children, Ann Shane Shehee, Andrew Michael Shehee, Nell Elizabeth Shehee Kramer and husband, Graham, and Margaret Scott Shehee Cole and husband, David; former daughter-in-law, Gigi Goodwin Shehee; grandchildren, Ryan Goodwin and Cory Goodwin and Leila Kramer and Sarah Kramer; and the children of her late lifelong friend, Priscilla Crosby Rice: Vincent D. Rice, Jr. and wife, Kay; Dr. Joe C. Rice and wife, Stella; Priscilla Ann Rice McLean and husband, Robert; cousin, Nancy Shehee Paylor Cecil and husband, Waldo; a host of cousins, godchildren, and special friends too numerous to name.
Honoring Virginia as pallbearers will be Charles E. Brown, Max A. Corley, James K. Elrod, John A. Hensarling, Roy James, Charlie McBride, Sid Potts, Lamar P. Pugh, Alvin P. Rabenhorst, W. Clinton Rasberry, Jr., Dr. Joe C. Rice, Vincent D. Rice, Jr., Sylvester Schufford, John F. Sharp, Ken Shepherd, Garrett Vogel, and Donald J. Zadeck.
Serving as honorary pallbearers will be the employees of Kilpatrick Life Insurance, Rose-Neath Funeral Homes, Cemeteries, Crematorium, and Flower Shop, former and current members of the Centenary College of Louisiana Board of Trustees, Virginia K. Shehee Biomedical Research Institute, Ben E. Coleman, The Board of Directors of The State Fair of Louisiana and ArkLaTex Agriculture Council, Johnnie Combs, Commissioner James J. Donelon, and Senator J. Bennett Johnston, Jr.
The Shehee family would like to express their sincerest and deepest appreciation to those steadfast and loyal to Virginia for these many years. Blanchie May Smith has our sincerest gratitude for her many years of loving devotion. Jackie Wine, her executive assistant, is thanked for her 25 years of dedication. Her companions for the last four and a half years who contributed to her wellbeing, Tracy Richardson, Van Combs, Alison Willis, Freeda Adams, and Joyce Gatlin made her final years ones of comfort and care. The employees of her companies, doctors, especially Dr. Gunjan Kahlon, nurses, and staff of Willis Knighton Health System, University Health, Mayo Clinic, and Divine Health Care provided unsurpassed care.
The family suggests memorials may be made to St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 275 Southfield Road, Shreveport, LA 71105; Shreveport Symphony, 616 Jordan Street, Shreveport, LA 71101; Centenary College of Louisiana, 2911 Centenary Boulevard, Shreveport, LA 71104; Biomedical Research Foundation, 2031 Kings Highway, Shreveport, LA 71103; Robinson's Rescue, 2515 Line Avenue, Shreveport, LA 71104; Nena Plant Wideman Piano Competition, c/o Shreveport Symphony Guild, Inc., P.O. Box 52296, Shreveport, LA 71135; The Strand Theatre, 619 Louisiana Avenue, Shreveport, LA 71101; Robinson Film Center, 617 Texas Street, Shreveport, LA 71101 or to charity of donor's choice.
While Virginia was humbled by the accolades she received throughout her lifetime, she was most proud of her children and the contributions she was able to make to her community.