A winter sunset blazed in the sky and a fire roared in the hearth of the Ag Hall as a crowd gathered to remember Virginia Helen Iverson on Saturday. In a moving ceremony, kin, friends, and strangers gathered to honor and say farewell to their beloved friend who died on Nov. 18, after being hit by an SUV on State Road in Vineyard Haven.
As people filled the front room and milled about, their eyes lingered over the photos and writing on the walls — Virginia as a girl, Virginia lying out at Lambert’s Cove Beach, Virginia mid-laugh at a party. Ms. Iverson was remembered for her sharp intellect, her love of the outdoors, and her passion for walking, gardening, dancing, and yoga.
When describing Ms. Iverson, words like “courageous,” “graceful in her pensiveness,” “elegant,” “loving,” and “sweetheart” came up. “She was positive and optimistic, and always wanting to grow and change and learn,” her daughter, Katherine Young, said.
Ms. Iverson’s brother Neal Iverson spoke about her life, which started in Mobile, Ala., in 1946. She went on to attend Duke University, where she met Henry Newton Young and had her first child, Katherine, and later a son, Jonathan, who died in a car accident when he was 4 years old.
“There is a sense of fate to her death,” Ms. Young said, “that cars and accidents are punctuation marks to her life; a car accident taking her [son] and my younger brother, and then 40 years later a car accident taking her.”
People recounted the many times they picked Ms. Iverson up on a trip back from the grocery store or on their way to a ballroom dance class. Many spoke of the instant connection they felt to Ms. Iverson in the short time they chauffeured her to or from her destination. She was a recurring sight on the side of the road since she moved to the Island in 1978 with her daughter.
Tony Omer, who knew Ms. Iverson through her caretaking of his mother-in-law’s property, was one of Ms. Iverson’s many personal drivers. “Over the years, I, evidently mistakenly, thought I was the only one who would pick her up and gave her a ride,” he said. “We would meet at the Post Office, sometimes she had a bag of groceries, she would be standing on the side of the road waiting for the bus, and I would stop and pick her up. Well, invariably she would ask about my entire family. She would tell me about her daughter and what she was up to, and where she was living at the time. Every time I ran into her it was her smile, her willingness to share of her life and to show concern about yours. She’s missed by all of us.”
“She felt so strongly about this place,” Neal Iverson, Virginia’s brother, said as the ceremony commenced. “She always spoke so warmly of Martha’s Vineyard and you people up here, who were truly her neighbors and friends.”
Ray LaPorte, who lived near Ms. Iverson with his wife Bernadette LaPorte for many years, valued his connection with his neighbor.
“She made a big difference in our lives. She taught me how to walk the earth gently, almost without making a footprint on the land,” he said. “She was an apparition. She was very grateful, had every question possible about our life, our children, [and our] grandson.”
Mr. LaPorte recalled a sultry summer day when Ms. Iverson walked up to his door in a flowing white outfit and asked, “How do I look?” With the sun beaming behind her, Mr. LaPorte recalled having to break the news to her, diplomatically, that “it doesn’t leave much to the imagination.”
“She politely said ‘Oh,’ and sauntered back down,” Mr. LaPorte said. “I have no idea if she changed her clothes, but I will forever have that image of Virginia the apparition.”
The evening was filled with many voices and stories, which ranged from humorous to sorrowful, and painted a picture of a gentle, intentional, and caring woman who shared her love of movement with everyone she met.
Mr. Iverson recalled the last time he danced with his sister, at her 50th high school reunion in Mobile. Despite having detached retinas in both eyes, Ms. Iverson lit up the dance floor. “Virginia, unable to tell where she was going on the dance floor, was the star dancer,” he said. “I was confounded by how elegantly she performed.”
Ms. Young read a story she wrote for the occasion that focused on her mother’s “beautiful sore feet.”
“Mother had a life of movement,” Ms. Young said. “Her dogs had no choice but to become intrepid walkers as well. Creating a vision of my mother striding across pavement, sand, grass, earth, Roman cobblestones, and uneven Taiwanese sidewalks seems fitting for a woman who at age 31 took to her feet and gave up driving, something one could do in Vineyard Haven in the late ’70s, and can still do Virginia style in 2017 … funky, eccentric, willing to go against the grain — classic Virginia.”
The combination of being a perennial hitchhiker with poor vision made for humorous results. “Once, she famously flagged down what she thought was the Vineyard Transit Authority but was instead some handsome someone who agreeably took her to her destination,” Ms. Young said.
As the crowd grew silent, Eleanor Stanwood stood up to read a poem she wrote for her late friend. Her husband David Stanwood, another longtime friend of Ms. Iverson, played a song on the piano. The notes lingered in the air as the crowd stood to enjoy food donated by the Scottish Bakehouse and to disperse into the cold night.