March 26th, 2014 by Anita Carswell
Virginia Handley was a remarkable woman known by many of the IDA staff and volunteers. Rather than write one summary trying to capture who she was and what she did, we’re choosing instead to share with you a couple of the warm remembrances of her closest colleagues and friends.
She was best known for her tireless work on legislative issues for animals in California and her lifelong work is one of the primary reasons California has some of the best laws for animals in the country. Over the last quarter century or so, Virginia tracked every California law regarding animals, analyzed them for their soundness, and made sure changes weren’t introduced that ruined a great bill. She also paid attention to harmful bills and worked to get those killed as well. Finally, she supported animal friendly candidates with her report cards.
Virginia was dearly loved by IDA’s Hope Animal Sanctuary Director, Doll Stanley, who simply said, “My dear friend Virginia Handley passed this week. I was shopping when I learned of her passing. I simply stood and cried. Our dear mutual friend, Eric Mills, was among our friends who immediately shared the heart-sickening news. Of her, Eric said, “Without Virginia’s work in the Capitol for 35+ years, NOBODY in California would have had a clue about what was happening on the legislative front.”
“I begin by saying I’m a person of many words until it comes to a time of loss. Loss silences me. I know I’m not the only one who lost Virginia in a very personal way, but for me she was my Virginia. I’m so stunned I feel I’ve been pierced through and through. Virginia was the one who conned me into taking the unforgettable, “Spot-o-matic” and her mom Peaches, both wonderful dogs. I have to say Spot-o-matic and I became a team to be reckoned with. ”
“Virginia was a talented actress and singer, put on the best Christmas parties ever, and blended her public, private, and activist worlds so effortlessly. The blend made her special. In my twenty one years here in Mississippi, in a world still alien to me in many ways, I often called Virginia just to feel good, to laugh, to share our very practical views. We both felt that when it came to legislation our views and dreams might be utopian, but our approach to legislators resonated with our years of practical knowledge. As Virginia’s friend, I know she struggled to make ends meet. She worried about where she could afford rent to care for her babies (always with her), if she would have fuel to travel to Sacramento, always bought her clothes from thrift shops, and never, not for a second folded or thought of giving up her life’s work. My precious friend gave all with so little. Virginia will always be an inspiration to me and I will always miss her. Even in the day of pop up numbers on our cell phones, I always dialed hers.”
Please do not be worried, as Virginia’s dogs are being cared for and a permanent home is currently being sought.
Our founder, and President Emeritus, Dr. Katz, had these memories to share:
“Virginia and I often attended the San Francisco Animal Care and Control monthly meetings. Though San Francisco was one of the first cities to add the term “guardian” to their animal related ordinances, at subsequent meetings, quite often speakers, and occasionally members of the Council themselves would inadvertently use the term “owner” when referring to their relationships with their animal companions. I of course would bring the “error of their ways” to their attention. Virginia would turn to me in frustration with her eyes glaring at me, that I was making such a big deal out of one little word, the occasional usage of the term “owner.”
Once in a while she would get out of her seat, walk over to me and admonish me. She was a very, very determined and strong-willed person. At one of the last meetings she attended, after I made a comment about the inadvertent usage of the term “owner” she once again rose from her seat and came over to me, but this time with the deepest of sincerity and gentleness, with tears in her eyes, she said, “I understand, thank you.” Virginia was not one to change her mind, or give up easily, especially with her commitment to change the hearts and minds of our elected representatives. And as many of you know, nothing can be harder or a more frustrating task.”
As someone from the main office, who would often go to Sacramento for legislative hearings, I’m deeply saddened by Virginia’s absence. I last saw her there fighting for dog and cats and other animal companions when the Hayden Bill was in danger of being overturned. I always sought her out, and sat with her, as she was one of my favorite people fighting for animals. She lived near me, so I did also run into her at a local thrift store where when I said some of my clothes actually came from ROSS, she informed me that ALL hers came from thrift stores. She didn’t begrudge me though. She was a wonderful person.
Goodbye Virginia. We are forever indebted to you and all you accomplished.