Virginia Fedor Poole of Chilmark, whose life touched virtually every Island resident, died March 5 at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. She was 73 and the wife of Everett M. Poole.
She introduced many an Island youngster to theatre with children’s plays and puppet shows she produced and directed in her home, in schools and libraries. She successfully lobbied for a theatre program at the high school in the 1970s. In the same period, she played in summer performances of Vineyard Haven resident Duncan Ross’s Vineyard Players.
She directed church pageants across the Island and fund-raising shows for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. She passed on her love of the written word to pupils in the Chilmark and Tisbury schools as a participant in one-on-one reading programs.
For two terms, she was on the board of directors of Hospice and served as its publicity director. She was a member of the Island Community Chorus, the Want to Know Club, and Edgartown’s Stitch and Bitch Club. When her two daughters were young, she was a Brownie troop leader.
When Jaws was filmed on the Vineyard, she was the assistant casting director, responsible for finding — among others — Peggy Scott, Dr. Robert Nevin, Hershel West, Robert J. Carroll, John N. Alley, her father in law, Capt. Donald L. Poole, and her own children, Katharine and Donald, for the movie.
As a member of the Vineyard Gazette staff in the 1980s when the new agricultural hall was being built in West Tisbury, she made so sure that every phase of its construction was well covered that she was honored by being given her own pegs from the old hall to pound in as the new hall neared completion. When the new Chilmark School was built, Jini Poole saw to it that it had an inviting playground. When a Gazette intern or a college student could find no place they could afford to stay, Jini Poole would, somehow, find an available room or two to rent in the Pooles’ Edgartown house. There, on warm starry nights, she might invite her young tenants to join her for a gin and tonic and a backyard cookout of fresh fish from Poole’s Fish Market.
“Of all the people who have come to the Island from away,” said longtime friend Anne Burt of West Tisbury, “Jini surely has left the greatest mark.”
Virginia Fedor was born Sept. 22, 1934 in Rahway, N.J., a daughter of John Fedor Jr. and Mildred Whitman Fedor. Her paternal grandfather had come to the United States from Hungary when he was 15 and she would proudly recount how he worked in New York as a waiter at the German restaurant Luchow’s as a way to learn English. Befriended by the restaurant’s wealthy patrons, he was able, while still a young man, to buy land for investment in New Jersey with the tips they had given him and that his wife had secretly saved for him.
That established the Fedor family in New Jersey where Jini attended grade school and high school in Linden. She was noted there both for her ability to memorize and recite long poems and for her imitation of the child actress of the 1940s, Margaret O’Brien. In high school, Virginia not only performed in school plays, but acquired the “Jini” spelling of her nickname. It was bestowed by her older sister Joan as a way of making her different in an era when being different was decidedly important.
Jini went on to Bates College in Lewiston, Me., where she majored in English and reveled in participating in college drama, starring as Joan in George Bernard Shaw’s St. Joan and as Portia in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. She was honored with induction into the Bates College Key, a society that recognizes a student’s overall contribution to college life. And it was through her roommate at Bates, Frances Crandell of Wellesley, that her association with the Vineyard began.
A few days after her June 1956 graduation, in the Wellesley Congregational Church, Frances Crandell was married to David Flanders of Chilmark. Jini Fedor was her maid of honor. David’s longtime friend Everett Poole was an usher. Less than a year later, with Frances Flanders as matron of honor and David Flanders as an usher, Virginia Fedor became the bride of Everett Poole in the same church. (Briefly, before her marriage, she taught school.)
The newlyweds moved into the house above Quitsa Pond that Everett had built for his bride. Although, in the years to come, there would be a number of winters spent on South Summer street in Edgartown where Jini was active in St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, and occasional trips to other parts of the United States and Europe, that Bumblebee Hill house would be Jini’s beloved home.
In recent years, when her illness often confined her, she would bask happily in the bright sun in the dining room that Everett had enlarged for her and filled with windows. In summer, there was the deck overlooking Quitsa Pond to enjoy. (Less enjoyable were the pesky Canada geese that liked strolling her lawn and that, nature-lover though she was, Jini would chase away with vehemence.)
Although she was not a gardener, Jini reveled in the out-of-doors, canoeing on Squibnocket and Quitsa ponds, swimming, taking walks with her children when they were young and pointing out nature’s highlights to them. When they were grown, she would walk up-Island woodland paths with Fran Flanders and another good friend, Dorothy Packer of Vineyard Haven.
In an introduction to a Chilmark column that she wrote for the Gazette in June of 1986, Jini noted:
“The birds are at it again. Every morning and evening the air is alive with their chatter . . . The trees are at it again. So are the bushes. Growing leaves, lengthening stems so the space of Chilmark is shaped in a new way this year . . . The grass is at it again. Asserting its place in the newness of things, covering up the roadside walls that lined our winter ways in solemn posture. ‘Enough of that,’ says the grass. ‘Look at me, and the purple wild iris growing in the swamp. See those horse chestnuts with their blossoms pointing in spires toward the sun, and the lacy wisteria, lavender and white, trembling in the morning breeze. Yes, yes, we’re busy all of us. This is our time.’”
In the same way that she gave personality to the grass, she gave personality to Turtle and Sea Monster puppets when she and Judy McConnell of Vineyard Haven began giving Parapetite puppet shows in the 1970s. Jini wrote entrancing scripts for many of the plays they took to schools and libraries and children’s birthday parties in private homes. In her gentle, mellifluous voice, she conversed about all sorts of things with Gosnold the Seagull puppet before shows began. In later years, she would continue to try to write for children and was at work on three children’s manuscripts when she died.
Although her first love (after her husband and children) was, for most of her life, the theatre, she told the Want to Know Club in the 1980s about the change in her life that came after she had gone to Bentley College in Boston in 1982.
Her original intention was to get a degree in business communications in the hope that it might help her to assist her husband with his fish market. After she had taken a course in journalism, however, and gone to work for the Gazette, to her surprise, a love of writing developed that surpassed her long interest in theatre.
As part of her course at Bentley she had done a paper on the Gazette’s coverage of the birth of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. Working on that college paper, she spent hours at the Gazette. She became so entranced with journalism that she asked for — and was given — a Gazette job.
For a while, she sold advertising for the Summer Guide, but before long, she was a full-fledged reporter, not only writing the Chilmark social column, but covering town meetings and selectmen’s meetings and breaking events. When President and Mrs. William Clinton were on Island holidays and entertaining in her Chilmark neighborhood, she covered their parties. Staunch Democrat and feminist that she was, she was a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton for President.
“Jini reported and wrote with a wonder and excitement that were an inspiration to young reporters,” a fellow reporter of that day, Tom Dunlop, remembers. ”She truly followed the precepts Henry Beetle Hough set forth when he was the Gazette’s editor. He said that, though the same events were covered by the paper year after year, a good reporter’s goal should be to find something new to tell in his or her story each time.
“Because she was so much a part of the Island, she knew who her readers were and where their enthusiasms lay and that made her an especially valuable reporter,” he said. “She was the closest thing to an Islander than an off-Islander can possibly be.”
Devoted to the Vineyard though she was, her enthusiasms sometimes took her beyond the Vineyard. There were day trips to Boston with Everett to attend theatre in their early married years. There were visits to Island friends in Florida and holidays in Maine and Quebec. With her daughter Katharine, Jini bicycled in Europe. She climbed in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and went horseback riding in Wyoming and Idaho.
“You know you dream all your life of being a cowgirl. Jini dreamed that way, too,” traveling companion Dotty Packer remembers, “and once she had decided she wanted us to go West on a trip, she took riding lessons from Sally Renear to get ready.
“Then off Jini and I went to a small ranch on the Snake River. It was in June and there was still snow in the mountains, but Jini was determined to go up anyway, so they sent a wrangler and two men with us to set up the tents and up we went. Typical Jini — she decided she’d bring down some snow, but of course, by the time we got to the bottom it was all melted!
“Then Fran Flanders and Jini and I, led on by Jini, went horseback riding another year in Idaho. Since both of us knew how to ride, for safety’s sake, one would ride in front of Jini and one in back.”
The last trip the three friends took was about five years ago. Since Jini realized she was unwell, they followed the Lewis and Clark route in Montana by bus with Elderhostel rather than going alone.
“I remember we went to a Native American museum where Jini took a lot of notes because she said she wanted to write a children’s story about a little Native American girl,” Dotty Packer recounts.
Coming back on the plane, her companions recall, each had a carry-on knapsack. Theirs were filled with knitting and puzzles to keep them occupied, but Jini’s was empty. She didn’t need anything to do. Reporter that she was, she simply wanted to enjoy watching and listening and talking with fellow travelers.
“I will always think of Jini with joy,” Fran Flanders says. “She was so bubbly and playful about things and people.
“Whatever situation, whatever room she was in, she brought a brightness to it,” said the Rev. Jack Burton of Edgartown, who headed St. Andrew’s Sunday School when she was a teacher there.
Song and dance, along with dramatic theatre and writing, also were her passions. She could (and did, as she performed household tasks) sing cheerily from Oklahoma, Guys and Dolls, South Pacific, My Fair Lady — from virtually every major musical of recent decades. She could dance all the dances in Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker ballet. At her husband’s 70th birthday party, she virtually danced the night away with him in a cheery pink dress.
By the time of her own 70th birthday party, however, her illness had struck and she was being entertained rather than doing the entertaining. Her daughter, Katharine, who has followed in her mother’s theatrical footsteps and heads the theatre program at the high school, was doing the singing.
In recent years, despite the debilitating effects of her disease, Jini had continued to sing with the Island Community Chorus — though sometimes she had to attend rehearsals in a wheelchair. She planned to be part of the scheduled April 13 performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah at the high school. Instead, the 3 p.m. performance will be dedicated to her.
Virginia Poole is remembered by her friends for her warmth and intelligence, her generosity of spirit, her courage and joy, for her playfulness and love of people, her zaniness and humor, her passion for people and things and causes.
She is survived by her husband; a daughter, Joan Cottle Poole Nash and her husband Thomas Howland Nash of West Newton; a daughter, Katharine Poole Murray and her husband Robert Lindley Murray 2nd of Chilmark; a son, Donald Fedor Poole of Chilmark; a sister, Joan Fedor Marcille Maine and her husband William Maine of Wickford, R.I.; grandchildren Amy Howland Nash, Thomas Everett Nash and Katharine Hollister Nash of West Newton; and numerous nieces and nephews.
More than 300 Vineyarders whose lives Jini Poole had touched attended a graveside service in the sun yesterday at Abel’s Hill Cemetery in Chilmark with the Rev. Robert D. Edmunds and the Rev. Teresa Payne Gocha officiating.
Fittingly, Reverend Gocha read from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “We are such stuff As dreams are made on And our little life Is rounded with a sleep.”
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to the Island Community Chorus, P.O. Box 4157, Vineyard Haven MA 02538 or Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard, P.O. Box 2549, Oak Bluffs MA 02557.