Memorial Tribute to Virginia Morsey Wheeler Talley

Virginia Morsey Wheeler Talley, JD/BA '42, passed away after a very brief illness on February 18, 2011, exactly 92 years to the day she was born. She was surrounded by family members and friends who celebrated her birth and held her in love as she passed.

Virginia Morsey Wheeler Talley

Virginia was a remarkable human being, a true emissary of Light, who graced the world with her calm and fearless presence. Her academic and professional accomplishments were extraordinary, but her fondest memories were of her two wonderful marriages and families.

Virginia was born in Miami, Oklahoma, to the late Clyde and Susannah Morsey. She graduated from the Miami High School at the age of 16 without missing one day of school. She attended Lindenwood College in St. Charles, MO, for two years before moving to St. Louis in 1939. There she lived with her beloved Uncle Edgar and Aunt Florence Polster, and her best friend and cousin, Philip Polster.

In 1940, Virginia returned to school, at Washington University, pursuing her undergraduate degree at the same time as her law degree. She was the only woman in her law class, graduated Valedictorian, Phi Beta Kappa, and was a member of the Order of the Coif. Significantly, she was voted the Editor in Chief of the Law Review Quarterly. She would continue to attain that level of respect and adoration throughout her professional career.

In 1941, Virginia became an attorney for the Rural Electrification Administration, a New Deal agency bringing power to rural areas throughout the country. She moved to Washington, D.C. in 1946 with the REA and shared a townhouse at 1902 R St, NW, with other professional women with whom she formed life-long, loving relationships. Lucy Fusco, Savannah Walker, Virginia Anthes, Frances Kenner, Sue McCall-Liggett, Dorothy Gregory, Dorothy Martin and Virginia comprised the “R Street Gang.”

In 1947, she began working at the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (later known as the World Bank) and the International Finance Corporation. While working for the World Bank, Virginia met Lt. General Raymond A. (“Speck”) Wheeler, a widower, who after retiring as Chief, Army Corps of Engineers, founded the Engineering Department of the bank. They married in 1959. Virginia left her position at the bank and, with Speck, formed an engineering-legal team, serving as consultants to the World Bank and the United Nations.

They enjoyed 15 exciting years together, traveling on frequent assignments usually related to international problems concerning water resources development. Their assignments over the years had them traveling to the Congo, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, India, Pakistan, Southeast Asia, China, Japan and Australia. Speck died unexpectedly in 1974 at the age of 89. Virginia was 55 years old.

After Speck’s death, an old friend of his, Brigadier General Benjamin Branche (“BB”) Talley, whose wife had recently passed away, contacted Virginia to commiserate their losses. They fell in love and married in 1975. Together, they shared a very full 25 years traveling between their homes in Alaska and Washington, D.C. Virginia loved their life in Alaska, where they had a small home on 40 acres on the Kenai Peninsula, grew vegetables, fished, smoked and canned. She once caught a 54-pound salmon with a 20-pound test line from the shore. It seemed that there was nothing at which she did not excel.

Virginia and BB gave generously of themselves in Alaska: They worked tirelessly to move the state’s capitol to a more central location (which did not come to pass); produced a documentary, “Alaska at War,” describing the Japanese invasion of the U.S. Aleutian Islands in WWII. It can often be seen on the History Channel; financed the building of a Senior Center in Anchor Point; and performed pro bono work for The Old Believers, a religious sect that fled Russia during the Stalin regime. They also established the Benjamin B. Talley Scholarship Endowment Fund for the education of engineers.

They had many wonderful friends in Alaska. After a long illness, BB died in 1998. Virginia stayed in Anchor Point, participating in a writing group, volunteering at the Visitor and Senior Centers, and traveling to far-flung locales once or twice a year with her dear friend, Jane Little.

In 2004, at the age of 85, Virginia bought an apartment at Knollwood (originally the Army Distaff Hall), a military retirement community in Washington, D.C., which she helped found in the 1960s. She returned to Alaska for the next two years. Eventually, she donated her Alaskan property to the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust and moved permanently to Washington, D.C.

Until her death, Virginia was a member of the St. Louis, District of Columbia, and American Bar Associations. She had been a founding member of the District of Columbia Chapter AD of the P.E.O. (Philanthropic Educational Organization) and in her last seven years, she became active in the chapter once again. She wrote a book about her second husband’s extraordinary life, and regularly volunteered for assignments at Knollwood. Her last trip abroad was a three-week sojourn to Italy with her granddaughter, Keitheley. Over the course of her life, Virginia traveled to 46% of the world.

Virginia was a loving, generous soul. She inherited children and grandchildren through both her marriages and she encouraged them in all of their endeavors. She financially supported some throughout their higher education, some in illness, and some during life-changes. Her greatest gifts, however, were her deep sense of peace within herself, the equanimity with which she viewed all peoples, her fearlessness and her compassion. Virginia’s was truly a life well-lived.

We will miss her kindness, guidance and presence more than anyone can imagine.

Virginia leaves to treasure her memory her granddaughters by her first marriage, Keitheley Wilkinson, and Laurie Vogt and her husband, John, and their 3 children; her son and grandchildren by her second marriage, Robert and Holly Ann Talley, Kay Talley, Quinn Talley, River Stillwood, Krist and Mary Talley, Branch Talley, Mark and Barbara Talley, and Steve and Judy Talley; and many great grandchildren.

There will be a memorial service to honor Virginia’s memory at Knollwood at 10:00AM on Saturday, February 26, 2011. Her cremated remains will be interred at Arlington Cemetery in the spring. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to the Virginia M. Talley Endowed Scholarship Fund in the School of Law. Please send bequests to: WUSL Campus Box 1202 Alumni & Development 1425 Forsyth Blvd. Suite 2300 St. Louis, MO 63105.