Could everyone write one simple essay about something that once happened in Saltaire…that they saw or were a part of…and put it on one big website? Somebody should collect a lot of stories before we all forget. Otherwise it is like a line in “On The Beach” : The history of the war that now would never be written.” -(JO'H)

Monday, May 29, 2017

Virginia O'Brien

This winter saw the passing of one of Saltaire's great personages, Ms. Virginia O'Brien.
Frank Connolly recalls:


Virginia Ryan O’Brien, who quietly slipped away from us last Monday at the tender age of 90, was many things: wife, mother, friend, first lady of the Village, commodore of the Yacht Club, and the epicenter of a group of outspoken and witty ladies who defined a lot of what Saltaire was about in the 1970s and ’80s. And did I mention that she was fun?

My memories of Virginia – after all these years, the instinct is still to call her Mrs. O’Brien – are inextricably linked to my memories of her son Hugh, who was and is one of my closest friends. Virginia always thought the world of Hugh, as well she should have, and by extension she thought the world of his friends, which at least back in the ’70s was a more debatable proposition. Even as we were all regularly engaged in the sort of genially disreputable behavior that characterized most Saltaire teenagers back in the day, Virginia saw in each of us some merit, some saving grace, that warranted not only her attention but her enthusiastic commendation.

Virginia was fiercely loyal to family and friends, and she did not talk down to friends who happened to be, well, kids. She was the first grown-up who ever spoke to me as though I were capable of adult conversation. The fact that, at the age of 15, I was capable of no such thing didn’t faze her one bit.

Saltaire was different back then: more leisurely, less structured. What passed for structure, at least back then, was the regular convening of a tight circle of mothers up at the ocean, almost every afternoon. Starting in the mid-1970s, the same group took things one step further, gathering once a week in Kismet for dinner. The Ladies’ Friendly, as the weekly confab quickly became known, endured for many years as a forum for both high-minded discussion and juicy gossip, and Virginia often found herself at its center.

For close to 60 years, Saltaire was a central part of Virginia’s life. She was a model of what we now call civic engagement; her active involvement in Village affairs began when her late husband Hugh was mayor, continued through her years as the Yacht Club’s first female commodore, and endured through her son Hugh’s long service on the Board of Trustees. Through it all she was informed, opinionated, and outspoken – but always good-natured, in a manner not always evident in today’s Village politics.

And she was, as I said, 
fun. Virginia had a dry wit that could be sharp without being nasty, and she had a big generous laugh that she employed frequently. An enduring memory of those long-ago times is of Virginia and her friends crowded around the piano in the Yacht Club after a Friday-night dinner, belting out the old standards as Ken Thompson tickled the ivories. The singing may have been a little wobbly sometimes, but the good cheer was always spot-on.

It’s always hard to say goodbye to a parent, and I’m sure this is a tough time for Hugh and his wonderful bride, Catherine. But you should take consolation in knowing that Virginia Ryan O’Brien was one of the great ladies of Saltaire, a true original who will live on in a thousand warm and vivid memories. Now listen up: somewhere in the great beyond Ken Thompson has started to play, and Virginia has once again joined the chorus.
– Frank Connolly



                        1969 

Virginia O'Brien and Hugh O'Brien Sr. 

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