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Obituary: Virginia Blakeslee

Virginia Blakeslee, a longtime resident of Port Washington and devoted member of the League of Women Voters, who was honored as Port’s Woman of the Year in 1996, died Oct. 7, 2011 at her home in Santa Fe, NM. She was 93. The cause was complications from a fall she sustained 10 months ago, her daughter, Sandra Blakeslee, said.

Virginia was a league member for 59 years, serving as president of the Port Washington/Manhasset chapter from 1959 to 1962. In 1967, she wrote a comprehensive history of the chapter for its 50th anniversary.

Virginia moved to Port Washington in 1952 with her husband, Alton, who was science editor of the Associated Press, and their two children. “We moved on Tuesday, and on Thursday the membership chair of the league stopped by to welcome me to Port Washington, asked me to join, and picked me up on Monday for their meeting,” she said. “The two women who sat on either side of me at that first meeting are still my best friends. At that time, the league was the only organization in town that people paid attention to.”

During her tenure, Virginia worked on voter services, chaired a study to fluoridate the city’s water (the effort failed) and led a study of land use and development that kept Port Washington’s zoning intact when there was a lot of pressure for uncontrolled growth. She also lobbied for permanent voter registration in New York. Prior to passage of this law, voters in the state had to register every year in order to vote. Her other achievements included stopping the building of an oil storage tank offshore of Port for oil tankers to reload, and defeating “weighted voting” in New York which had a system where 10,000 people in a city equaled one vote, which meant the bigger cities decided things for the rest of the county.

“Getting one person, one vote, which was a national law but ignored in New York, was one of the most important things I did,” Virginia said.

As league president, Virginia’s telephone rang constantly. One Saturday night, close to midnight, a man in Glen Cove called with a question arising from a poker game. Does four of a kind beat a straight flush? Virginia turned to her husband. His answer was “yes.” “Thanks,” said the voice. “I told the guys that the League of Women Voters knows everything!”

Another year, Virginia received a lovely handwritten letter from an elderly Sands Point lady. She said she admired and trusted the league, but her taxes were terribly high. “Please do something about taxes,” she urged. “Our Founding Fathers never intended for us to be taxed this way.” Virginia loved these anecdotes, and, as a gifted storyteller, regaled friends and family with it and other stories.

Virginia was born Helen Virginia Boulden in Cayottes Corner, Cecil County, MD., on Dec 16, 1917, to Hattie Davidson Boulden and Lambert Dennis Boulden. After her father died six years later, her mother opened a boarding house in Cecilton, MD, where she raised the youngest of her five children, Virginia and Dolly. After graduating from high school at age 16, Virginia attended the Goldey-Beacon School of Business and then went to work for the DuPont Company. She married Alton Blakeslee in 1937 and had her first child a year later. The couple lived in Baltimore, MD, and Malba, NY, before moving to Port Washington in 1952.

After her husband died in 1997, Virginia moved to Santa Fe to be near her daughter, a reporter for the New York Times and book author. One of her first acts was to start a local chapter of the Foreign Policy Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring the American public to learn more about the world. She joined the Santa Fe League of Women Voters and was active in the Council for International Relations. At the retirement center where she lived, Virginia made new friends, played a lot of bridge, attended the Santa Fe opera, and enjoyed great food the town has to offer.

Virginia is survived by a son, Dennis Blakeslee of Madison, WI, a daughter, Sandra Blakeslee of Santa Fe, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.