Much was learned reading V.A.’s obituary that I never knew. I did not know that V.A. lived in Austin, Berkeley, and New Orleans and that she worked at the Hermann-Grima House and Gallier House in the French Quarter before becoming the first curator of the Manship House.
I met V.A. somewhere when I was a young adult, developed a ready rapport, and enjoyed visiting whenever we crossed paths thereafter. Ultimately I learned that V.A.’s mother had been Mary Alice Bookhart, the legendary society editor of The Clarion Ledger, and that V.A. was in Murrah High School’s first graduating class, which included many other people that I knew — Jacksonians knowing people among all ages.
I last saw V.A. at a Preview Party, December 8, 2017, the evening before the two State Museums were dedicated. I told V.A. that I had prepared a holiday quiz about Jackson for the Christmas week edition of The Northside Sun and included the question, “Who was Mary Alice Bookhart?” Elbert Hilliard, the fabled former director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History was with us. Employing his charm, diplomacy, and extensive knowledge of Mississippi history, Mr. Hilliard explained the legacy of Mary Alice Bookhart, with incisive commentary about her contribution to community cohesion. It was an immaculate last memory of someone to cherish into eternity.
A more meaningful memory of V.A. involved a visit when she was the curator of the Manship House. I acquired, from my grandparents’ attic, as a law student, a Victorian table — eclectic as only Victorian design accomplishes — acquired by ancestors at the turn of the 20th century. Its intricate fretwork, beneath the tabletop, was removed at some point — presumably during the 1950s when old was deemed undesirable. The void was more offensive than that removed. I resolved to restore the table.
Someone advised that I consult V.A. She suggested meeting on a Friday afternoon. We pored through books in her office until a match was made, at the James Whitcomb Riley House in Indianapolis. I contacted that museum and received pages of Xerox copies, illustrating how to commence restoration. The table remains a prized possession. Such collaboration became abandoned after everything was expected to be done on the internet.
I never discussed Mary Alice Bookhart with V.A., apart from the evening mentioned, just as I never discussed Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald with their daughter Scottie, who I knew through mutual — much older — friends in Zelda’s hometown of Montgomery where Scottie spent her final years. Certain topics are better left for another person to initiate. There is probably good cause if they choose not to do so.
I would never have guessed that V.A.’s mother was society editor. That seemed unlike V.A.
Something was lost but more gained with the position’s passing. I shudder contemplating the power over people provided: Who was recognized — on what page and where — made or destroyed reputations. Whether one’s wedding photograph graced the front of the Sunday society section or was tucked inside telegraphed one’s prominence in Jackson.
Since my photograph appeared in the newspaper at least once a year throughout childhood, and my parents appeared regularly, I suppose that I had nothing to fear — especially because I was not from elsewhere, trying to make a name for myself. Yet I am grateful that such nonsense had been banished before I became an adult.
One trusts that people are judged by the content of their character, rather than being photographed at a party, one-quarter into the 21st century
Jay Wiener is a Northsider.