Remembering Virginia Birkby

Evelyn Birkby

I know that passing away is part of life. Much of my generation is gone now. It saddens me and I miss many people, but there is something about us having lived a very long time that makes passages more acceptable.

My husband Robert died two years ago at age 98. In the last year his sister Ruthella Barnard and brother Jack Birkby also left us. They were both in their mid-90s. I was surprised and sad, then, to learn that my niece Virginia Birkby has recently died after an illness. Jack’s oldest daughter,

Virginia was the same age as our daughter Dulcie Jean. Her sisters Debra and Jackie were close in age to our sons Jeff and Craig. Since they were growing up in the Pacific Northwest, we had few opportunities to get together, but the times we did were memorable.

Jack’s family visited us on the farm south of Farragut when Virginia was about three. She and Dulcie Jean played together. They caught crickets in the yard and petted the farm animals.

While our boys were young, we made several trips to stay with Jack, Dort, and the girls at their home near the ocean in Arch Cape, Oregon. The cousins happily played on the beach and splashed in the waves.

I have been told that Virginia’s sister Debra and several of her cousins have been writing Virginia’s obituary. Here is what they have so far.

Virginia Ann Birkby was born to Jack and Dorothy (Yost) Birkby on February 16, 1947, in Tacoma, Washington. She graduated from high school in Milwaukie, Oregon, in 1965, and from the University of Puget Sound in 1969, then earned a masters’ degree from Pacific Lutheran University.

As a teacher, director of special education, and an administrator, Virginia was with Tacoma’s Clover Park School District from 1969 until 2000, and served a term as president of the Washington State Teachers Union. After retirement, she rejoined her family in the beach community of Arch Cape, Oregon. While she loved walking beside the ocean and sharing beach bonfires, she soon returned to her true passion of classroom teaching at nearby Nehalem Elementary School for another 17 years.

Virginia devoted her life to children. She brought her whole heart to her work as a teacher, infusing her classrooms with homey charm. With quaint lamps and comfortable chairs, she created a warm learning atmosphere that embodied her pride in her profession and her love of children in whose lives she invested so much of herself. It is no wonder that her students adored her.

Virginia loved flowers and gardening. Whenever flowers came into bloom, they immediately found their way to as many rooms as would hold them. She put together beautiful arrangements, but never with anything as common as a carnation. Virginia’s vases exploded with bright-eyed irises and daisies, majestic montbretia and hydrangea, and her signature honeysuckle and fuchsia.

Whether it was a birthday, baby shower, Christmas gathering or even a funeral, Virginia coordinated bouquets of balloons, matching napkins and table cloths, coordinated place settings, creative decor, festive wrapping with frilly trim, and, of course, flowers.

Her eye for style extended beyond flowers to every detail of her rustic beach-themed home. Her elegant penmanship and calligraphy adorned special occasion invitations and everyday notes. She would put together outfits from her wardrobe that fashion designers would envy, and she could describe the outfit she wore to an event, even from her childhood. She appreciated textures and patterns of fabrics the way a musician cherishes notes.

Virginia enjoyed living by the ocean with its great expanses, crashing waves, sunshine and storms. She was surrounded by the love and laughter of family, friends, and several very large and loyal dogs. Her legacy includes the hundreds of children she taught and inspired and then sent on their way, better prepared for the future and always, in a corner of their minds, remembering the teacher who cared so much for every one of them.


Dort’s Hearty Clam Chowder

On a family visit to the Oregon coast long ago, our children joined Virginia and her sisters to dig for clams. Virginia’s mother Dorthy used some of the clams they harvested to make a delicious clam chowder. Here is her recipe.


4 slices bacon, cooked

3 green onions

5 medium potatoes

2 Tablespoons chopped green pepper

1 stalk celery, diced

1 carrot, minced

2 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce

2 cups chopped raw clams and juice (or one can clams)

2 cups light cream


Grind bacon, onions, and potatoes through food grinder, or chop coarsely in food processor. Combine in kettle with vegetables, water, and seasoings. Simmer 20 to 30 minutes until vegetables are tender and potatoes are mushy. (If the potatoes still have shape, mash them. This helps thicken the chowder.) Add clams and cream and heat until hot, but do not boil. Serve immediately.

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