Memorial Minute for Virginia Towle, 1922 - 2008
We give thanks to God for the life of Virginia Towle, who served actively among Friends in New England for many years. Virginia Tripp Towle was born and brought up in Westport, Massachusetts. At age five she contracted polio, and spent a year isolated in a hospital before entering grade school a year early. She remembered failing only one question on the test for early entrance: “What color is a white horse?” Her parents exposed their children to a number of churches. Virginia found a home in Westport Friends Meeting three miles away; and began attending on her own. During her teens and college years she earned room and board by working as a nanny. Her father lent her tuition for her first semester of college with the understanding she would be responsible for all future tuition. She obtained a degree in Home Economics at Massachusetts State College in Amherst, Massachusetts. While working at Indianapolis Children’s Museum, she attended the Five Years Meeting Triennial (now Friends United Meeting). She was met at the Richmond, Indiana train station by a Friend from Friends General Conference, who was accompanied by Phillip Towle. Virginia and Phil married in 1946. For their honeymoon, they bicycled throughout the British Isles on a tandem bicycle. During their early years of marriage, Phil and Virginia lived in a castle in Luxembourg. Although she suffered from motion sickness, Virginia would fly to Brussels to greet and provide hospitality for young Americans coming to Europe to participate in post-World War II rebuilding efforts. She also took part in a Young Friends Caravan that bicycled through Europe after the war. Upon returning to the United States, Virginia and Phil lived in Philadelphia and were active in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. When Phil learned the research and development he was involved in at Leeds and Northrup was being used to develop rockets with military applications, he terminated his employment. They changed life and career directions, moving to Hinckley, Maine, where they were active in North Fairfield Meeting. In Hinckley they worked at The Goodwill School, a school for boys who came from broken families or who had lost a parent. While serving as a houseparetnt, Virginia gave birth to the first three of their five children. In 1956 the family moved to Rindge, New Hampshire to work at Hampshire Country School for bright, emotionally disturbed students. After living at the school for a year, they were encouraged by its founder to purchase a house in Rindge. There some of the most challenging boys could live with them as family members. Virginia and Phil’s last two children were born in Rindge. The Towles had close connections with The Meeting School, which was just starting up in Rindge. Virginia and Phil, along with other Meeting School families, founded Monadnock Monthly Meeting, which originally met in members’ homes and later at the school. In the 1960s Phil and Virginia were called to work for FUM in Kenya. Phil traveled ahead to begin teaching at Chavakali Boys School. Virginia followed on a freighter with their five children. While in Kenya the family attended Kaimosi Friends Church. Virginia held a leadership role in what is now the National Council of Churches of Kenya. She focused on the roles of women both in the Friends Church and within the Council of Churches. When traveling on church business, she broke with colonialist missionary tradition by insisting on staying in the homes of her Kenyan counterparts and friends. Virginia served as headmistress of the Kaimosi Demonstration School, an elementary Friends school which her youngest children attended. She expanded the school’s size, reinvented it as a boarding school, and opened it to Kenyans beyond Kaimosi. Every school holiday the family traveled widely throughout eastern Africa, taking an entourage that included friends, students, guests, and teachers from Chavakali. Later, Virginia would enjoy telling stories about car breakdowns, dealing with wildlife around their tent, and negotiating checkpoints and language barriers in Burundi and Rwanda. Virginia remained active in women’s issues when she returned to New Hampshire. Over the years she traveled extensively throughout North and Central America as a delegate to gatherings of Friends World Committee for Consultation FUM, and United Society of Friends Women. Within New England Yearly Meeting she served on FUM and FWCC Committees, Nominating and Personnel Committees, Permanent Board, and as clerk of New England USFW. Virginia made a practice of attending meeting for worship faithfully, and of visiting other Friends’ Meetings when she traveled. Even when near blindness curtailed her driving in later years, she attended whenever she could find a driver. Struggling with physical disabilities stemming from diabetes, she kept up with what she deemed necessary and important. When Virginia moved to Meredith, NH to live with her daughters, Monadnock Meeting (home of her longest membership) felt her absence. She had offered her gift of hospitality, welcoming newcomers and hosting Friends in her home. She worked quietly behind the scene to help build community, storing little tidbits about individuals to link people with common interests. Virginia always felt close to the Earth, and loved gardening. She also loved to walk, collecting interesting objects to bring home as souvenirs. Many remember how she added a certain flare to her passion for simplicity and sustainability by driving a sporty red Honda CRX that got good gas mileage. Never a proselytizer, Virginia allowed her life to exemplify her beliefs. She could be persistent (to the point of inflexibility at times), always basing her position on principle.. She courageously advocated for others, particularly for school-aged children who were having difficulty with the system. North Sandwich Friends Meeting benefited greatly from her long Quaker experience and her careful attention to correct process and proper recording, as well as her good humor. Lifelong, Virginia was a minister who responded to the needs of others in her home meeting and in the wider Quaker community.