VLA Past President Christie Vernon's accomplishments in Virginia and nationally have been well documented since her untimely death on May 19, 2002, so I won't recount them here. What I am compelled to say is that she turned out to be the best bonus VLA ever gave me. Christie was my mentor and friend, both professionally and personally, for over 20 years, and she brought untold color, humor, and richness into my life.
My first real talk with her was at an early 1980s VLA College & University Section (CUS) meeting at James Madison University, in Harrisonburg. When it was time to go home, she invited (challenged?) me to follow her in my car along "scenic" Route 33 down the mountain to Richmond, where I lived. "Now keep up!" she commanded. Well, it was like that the rest of her life, and I tried my best to keep up, only occasionally succeeding.
By the 1985 VLA/CUS meeting at Washington & Lee University, she was president of VLA, racing (literally) around the Commonwealth, speaking and representing the association at all kinds of events. She was very encouraging to me, as I was then a candidate for VLA Vice President/President Elect. By that November, when I'd been elected, we met at the Homestead annual conference as close friends. She and her husband hosted a fine reception in their suite, serving Tidewater peanuts and sparkling cider from the Virginia mountains. Throughout the next three years on the VLA Board, Christie and I roomed together at those meetings and at ALA meetings, a practice we continued until our last trip together to ALA Midwinter in New Orleans in January 2002. During this period, I also began to reap another bonus - friendship with Christie's dear husband, Bill, one of the few true Virginia gentlemen I ever met. Bill was only the first of many "collateral" friendships I made as Christie's sidekick.
Over the years we visited all the major U.S. cities in the course of our ALA work. One of my favorite memories is our last trip to San Francisco for ALA in June 2001. Christie, Carol Parke (formerly at VCU Library, now retired from Syracuse), and I met in Berkeley overnight, rented a convertible (Christie's favorite), and drove up to Calistoga to take the mud baths. Here we were…three very pale, no-longer-young, East-Coast librarians, riding up the highway to Napa, getting sunburned…having a ball. After that peak experience of soaking in volcanic mud, then tepid mineral water, for an hour and a picnic lunch from a fancy grocery store, we drove south, down the back roads, through the perfectly manicured wine country. We stumbled upon and stopped for a drink at the Auberge du Soleil, had dinner at the French Laundry in Yountville, and arrived in the city about 10:00 p.m. Thursday night to begin our conference work the next day.
We also shared many personal trips. Struggling through a harrowing snow/ice storm on Christmas 1998, my husband Louis and I met Christie and two of her five sons with their families at the Jekyll Island Club on the Georgia coast. I attended the weddings of two of those sons. She and Bill (later Christie alone after Bill's death) visited me wherever I lived, including visits to my new home in Granville, Ohio, in 2000 and 2001. She especially loved visiting me when I lived in DC (1992-2000). She had a key and came and went as she pleased. One night she showed up when we were out of town. Turns out we'd moved the bed out of her bedroom upstairs and substituted a sofa bed, as we were creating a "music room." She wandered around finding sheets and blankets, finally settling herself into a deep sleep, only to have our cat Sara waken her to offer a little stuffed mouse that squeaked…Christie practically broke her leg stumbling out of bed to "kill" the mouse. She never let us forget it!
In NOLA last January, all her close friends noticed that she seemed to be in poor health, but there was no diagnosis, and she was forging ahead with her plans to move to Winter Park, Florida, near her son, David. The plan was to make the Orlando area her home base and travel around to her heart's desire. As spring progressed, I became alarmed that she expressed difficulties walking and distress getting ready for the move, but she did not accept much help from family or friends. She pushed on. By early May, she finally had most things arranged for purchasing the condo and having it painted and decorated. She got in her car, as was her wont, and drove non-stop from Yorktown to Chattanooga to spend a couple of nights with her son Andy on her way to Florida. A few days later when she arrived at David's house in Orlando, she was quite ill. She was hospitalized briefly, began kidney dialysis, and moved to a rehabilitation center in preparation for release to her new home. Christie's son Marcus called me May 18 and said she seemed to be failing fast. If I wanted to see her, he suggested coming within the next few weeks. Louis and I were in the car on our way to Cleveland the next day to celebrate our 12 th wedding anniversary, so we simply diverted to Pittsburgh and flew to Orlando that evening. We visited Christie Sunday morning May 19 and found her weak but just as sharp as ever. In fact, she was bantering (and flirting) with the handsome, young physician, Dr. Cohen, who was working on her dialysis shunt. She touched me by telling Cohen I was her daughter, and he said " Another child?! I've met the five sons." She hastened to say I was her honorary daughter. As always, we all talked at once in a stream-of-consciousness style, touching on current news, politics, our kids, our friends, and her new condo. We left for lunch while she was to have a massage, arranged by her sons. When we returned at the appointed time of 4 p.m., she had just died, relaxed and peaceful after her visits with family and friends, and a massage. She was in charge until the very end, and she undoubtedly approved of her quick and dramatic exit. The only problem is that she's left many of us grieving and in shock. Nevertheless, her voice is in my head, and she'll travel with me as long as memory survives.
At every turn since 1980, Christie set an example of commitment to professional standards, as well as to her "causes" - political activism (Democrat, of course), protection of consumers and of citizens' privacy, unfettered access to government information, and First Amendment rights. She pushed me when I needed to be pushed. She criticized me when I needed to be criticized. She hugged me when I needed to be hugged. It was certainly never boring. It was always loving.