Virginia M. Bishop Obituary — unabridged

Mary Shiraef
10 min readJan 11, 2021

My grandma passed away, just before Christmas, with complications from COVID-19. Despite her impressive age, I was not ready. We lost her much too soon. I had dreamed of drafting an obituary with, not for her. Even more than my rosy memories of perfection with her as a child, I cherished my relationship with her in her later years. Throughout our journey together, I loved her, and I liked her. I learned from her. On more than one occasion, I nursed her back to health. Different from my early, critical dependence on her, she grew to depend on me. From her humor, taste, intellect and good will, I am grateful to have enjoyed some of her final weeks of good health with her. I cannot write about that time yet.

A few weeks after she passed, my aunt found a short, handwritten obituary in her nightstand she had begun with her kids names and just a big ? for the rest of the tribute. Using online newspaper archives, an interview I put to her for my undergraduate honor’s thesis, and the memories of those who knew her, I did some research to fill the rest in.

A shorter version — available here — was printed on Sunday, 17-Jan in the newspaper my grandma subscribed to for decades: the Palm Beach Post. You can post condolences to the family through the All County Funeral Home & Crematory tribute wall here.

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Found in her nightstand

Virginia M. “Ginnie” Bishop, 93, resident of Boca Raton, FL since 1957, passed away December 16, 2020. She joined her late husband, Nicholas L. Bishop, who passed in 2006. Virginia Mary was born in Newark, NJ to Greek immigrants, Vasilios and Vassiliki “Bessie” Maskaleris, who named her after her grandmother, Panagiota Karidis, from the village of Aghios Sostis near Tripoli.

Starting her career at a five-and-dime store at 15 years old, she next became an assistant buyer at Bamberger’s upscale department store in its flagship Newark location. She then worked at the historic New Jersey Bell Telephone Company headquarters. From her telling, she worked first as a messenger, next in the accounting department, and eventually as a supervisor. [1]

Born into a family of Greek immigrants, Virginia worked her way through what might now be considered a “traditional” American life.

Throughout Virginia’s life, she was a renowned seamstress, known for fixing clothes in a pinch with a perfect hand stitch. She launched a self-run sewing and alterations business out of her home, won several local contests for her machine-sewn dresses, took and taught sewing courses, and crafted several lines of matching dresses for her daughters, granddaughters, and first great granddaughter.

Even later in her life, Virginia hemmed her granddaughter’s chiffon bridesmaid dress, by hand, just before her grandson’s wedding.

A quiet philanthropist, avid community organizer, and dedicated churchgoer, Virginia contributed her time and money to a variety of local community efforts. Most prominently, she was part of the Debbie-Rand Memorial Service League, the women-led initiative whose members raised the funds for the first hospital in Boca Raton, FL. [2] As wardrobe stylist and chairman of the “queen contest,” she often served on the official organizing committee of the League’s annual three-day “Fiestas de Boca Raton,” which raised upwards of $100,000 dollars each year (Palm Beach Post, 24 Jan 1965) for what became Boca Raton Community Hospital, now Boca Regional, where Virginia died.

Virginia’s achievements are peppered with surprises. For her work with the Junior Women’s club — with whom she co-launched the “Clothes Closet’’ project, in collaboration with the local Welfare Council (Fort Lauderdale News, 13 Oct 1961) — she won “Woman of the Year’’ (Palm Beach Post, 22 Mar 1964). She held generally conservative values and leaned Republican at the polls; but for issues of welfare and education, she was an active member of the Democratic Women’s Club of Boca Raton, serving as chairman of “coffee” events for local candidates, such as for then-Mayor, Harold Turner, before he won his seat on the Palm Beach County School Board (Boca Raton News, 19 Apr 1962). [3]

In her later life, she donated regularly to a long list of organizations, wide-ranging in scope, such as the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Habitat for Humanity and Boca Helping Hands.

A little-known, late life revelation: Virginia shared with Billy Graham a favorite movie: “Pretty Woman.”

In addition to her accomplishments , Virginia was known for her elegant beauty. Listed in her high school yearbook hall of fame as “best looking” (1945), she was later selected “Miss American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) of 1949” (with the title “Pretty Virginia Maskaleris”) by an anti-KKK, civil rights organization founded by Greek-Americans (Asbury Park Press, 23 May 1949); crowned “Junior Woman of the Year” in 1963 at the annual Orchid Ball (Boca Raton News, 2 May 1963); and mistaken regularly — even at 90 years old — as sisters to her daughters (and mother to her granddaughters).

Virginia’s 1950 wedding was featured as the front cover story of the New Jersey Bell Magazine (June edition). She donned a spectacular, timeless dress hand-crafted by her mother, later showcased in the New York Times special issue for vintage weddings, “Brides of the Times” (2013).

During Virginia’s 55-year marriage, she became a full-time homemaker and re-settled her life and family in 1956 in south Florida. She raised a son and two daughters, who recall her as a devoted wife, a patient and impressive mother, a gracious hostess, and a phenomenal cook. Her marriage is remembered by her kids as a “team marriage.” Locally, they were a “picture-perfect couple” and well-known for organizing and participating in community events. Their daughter Ellen recalls just how “smooooooth” they were on the dance floor, often spotted as the last ones.

“‘A state of absolute joy.’ That’s how I remember Grandma with Grandpa,” a grandkid recalls.

When Virginia’s children were grown, she became a doting, present grandmother to nine grandchildren, as well as a loving aunt, great aunt, and godparent. She traveled each year to see her grandkids (often multiple times), bearing gifts and clothes in accordance with their recent measurements. In between her visits, she sent “happy boxes” — affixed with bright yellow smiley face stickers — with freshly baked cookies. Her grandchildren remember her as a “pillar of our family.”

Virginia with her seven grandsons / dress-up time for Grandma and Grandpa / a shot Virginia took herself of granddaughter Mary, in response to her surprise visit

Virginia and Nick were long-time members of Saint Mark Greek Orthodox Church and later, Boca Raton Community Church (BRCC). With BRCC, Virginia took a solo pilgrimage to “the Holy Land,” where she was baptized in the Mediterranean Sea. She traveled multiple times to Greece to see family, and to other European destinations with Nick. To her grandkids, she expressed that her only life regret was not traveling more. She called her granddaughter before her first Greece trip to say: “Honey, I had the best dream last night. I was packing up to go with you.”

Following her husband’s death, she joined Seacrest Presbyterian Church at the invitation of her dear friend, Dawn Weingartner. She developed a love for nature walks and travelled each fall to her daughter Ellen’s cabin-like home in Bloomington, IN. In her ninetieth year, Virginia recovered fully from a broken hip and traveled to Indiana for a girls’ trip with her daughters, granddaughters and great granddaughter. To celebrate, she ordered 🥂champagne🥂 on the very delayed Southwest flight.

Bloomington, IN

Late in her life, she surprised all with a newfound interest in the Miami Heat basketball team, for whom she broke from her usual disposition of quiet composure to cheer them on. When challenged with, “Grandma, I’ve never heard you yell before,” she replied: “I’ve never seen a game that close before.”

She became a film buff with her grandson Stephen and revived her early love for reading, averaging a book a week. She celebrated her first virtual birthday party, built an 8-part collection of family photo albums with her daughter Linda, and put a 6-day “grandma test” to her granddaughter Mary’s PhD research.

Virginia enjoyed teaching tricks of the trade in the kitchen, speaking the Greek language, sharing advice, and listening to music — old and new, including most recently, one of her grandson Michael Shiraef’s pieces, titled “At Grandma’s.” In a 2011 letter to her granddaughter, she concluded about her later life: “It is a little lonesome for me, but I know I have a wonderful family who loves me and that’s all I ask.”

2020
Advice!

Of all the adjectives that capture Virginia — “classy”, “kind”, “affectionate”, “smart”, “well-humored”, “beautiful” and “composed” — her family will remember especially her not-so-subtle digs. For instance, upon seeing recent pictures of her family members, she commented: “I keep forgetting as I age, everyone else is getting so old too.”

Virginia was preceded in death by her husband (2006), her brother Nick (2015), and her sister Effie (2017). She is survived by her son, Lee Bishop of FL; her daughter, Linda (Gary) Miskimen of OH; her daughter, Ellen (Mike) Hayes of IN; many nieces and nephews; nine grandchildren (John, Nick, Fred, Stephen, Michael, William, Joseph, Mary and Ellen); nine great grandchildren (Ali, Nicholas, Titus, Ezra, Jack, Lucas, Celeste, Addison and Luke); and two godchildren (Peter Demas of NY and Beth Gardner of FL). In Greece, she is survived by her first cousins, Nikos, Panagiotis and Vangelis Karydis, their six children: Maria and Pareskevi; Maria and Vassiliki-Angeliki; and Maria “Mary” and Nagia “Penny”, and their grandchildren, Angeliki and Stamatis. [5]

Great nieces Mary and Penny in Tripoli, Greece

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a virtual service will be held by Seacrest Presbyterian Church on 23-Jan at 11am (EDT), Zoom link here: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82249565404.

An in-person memorial retreat will be held by the family in Brown County, IN in the fall, contingent on vaccine availability and dissemination. Indicate interest in the retreat by filling out the short survey here. Post condolences to the family through the All County Funeral Home & Cremation online obituaries: here.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Ginnie’s honor to Seacrest Presbyterian Church (2703 Seacrest Blvd, Delray Beach, FL 33444); the Debbie-Rand Memorial Service League (800 Meadows Rd., Boca Raton, FL 33486); or to Boca Helping Hands (https://bocahelpinghands.org/GeneralFundDonation).

Until 23-Jan, her granddaughter is collecting a personal gift for Virginia’s caretaker of three years, Yolande. To contribute, you can Venmo her (@Mary-Shiraef / cell ends in 9112) or Paypal her (maryshiraef@gmail.com) with the note “Yolande.”

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Footnotes:

[1] In another employee’s recollection, the New Jersey Bell “supervisors” were the entry-level positions for men (“Memories: A Personal History of Bell Telephone Laboratories,” 2015).

[2] Boca Regional is also where she spent her final days, fighting and eventually succumbing to the novel coronavirus.

[3] Democratic candidate, Harold Turner, ended up securing the land for the Boca Raton Community High School, where all three of Virginia’s kids went to high school.

[4] Two of her final (summarized) expressions to her granddaughter in Oct 2020 were that: (1) she hoped for a peaceful transition of power, despite Trump’s childlike ego and (2) that everyone will take COVID very seriously and not get sick.

[5] Thank you to those who assisted with this piece, including: Ellen Hayes, Mike Hayes, Linda Miskimen, Fred Sheriff, Michael Shiraef, Ellen Shiraef, John Shiraef, Matthew Amme, Natalie Pappas and the Vangelis & Angeliki Karydis family. A special thank you to Aimee Placas for supervising my undergraduate thesis, an interview for which served as a primary source for this piece. Thank you to the COVID Border Accountability Project (COBAP) team, whose impressive weekend efforts during 2020 allowed Virginia and her granddaughter (aka me) to tour the new pandemic world together, safely from her home. And last but not least, thank you to Cat Williams, Caroline Seebohm and Abiram Viswanath for editorial assistance.

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Mary Shiraef

Everyday Researcher. I write here about the people, experiences, and small businesses that bring me joy in this world and occasionally, the politics that don't.