Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mohegan Matriarch Virginia Damon Passes Away

Indian Country Today newspaper printed the following obituary on my grandmother Virginia Damon:

Indian Country Today
Gale Courey Toensing

UNCASVILLE, Conn. - Virginia Hope Sword Damon, a Mohegan elder who advocated on behalf of American Indians and devoted years to her tribe's efforts to achieve federal recognition, died on Feb. 18 at the age of 91.

Born in Worchester, Mass., on Aug. 1, 1916, Virginia Hope was the daughter of William Fredric Sword and his wife, Beatrice H. Hamilton. She attended Rhode Island and Connecticut schools, graduating from Johnson and Wales Business School in 1936. In 1939, she married Harland L. Damon. The couple settled in Niantic, Conn., where she led an active life of working and volunteerism.

Virginia Hope was a Girl Scout leader for many years and active in town activities. She taught Red Cross classes after World War II and during the Korean War. For the 1965 World Fair, she made the regalia and participated as part of the Bride Brook pageant, with the East Lyme Arts Council. She was a long time member and Executive Office of Secretary of the Niantic branch of Business and Professional Women. She was a member of the Order of Eastern Star and a Rebekah of the I.O.O.F. in the Niantic lodge. She worked tirelessly for Save the Children Organization, and helped out at an area collection point for donations of clothing during times of disaster.

She was an active member of St. John's Episcopal Church, Niantic; All Saints Episcopal Church, East Hartford; and a member in good standing with Christ Episcopal Church of Norwich.

Throughout the 1940s and '50s, she was active in the family business. She later worked in the accounting department for Sears and then in a New London certified public accountant's office. In the 1960s, she worked with Eva Butler, a co-founder of the Indian and Colonial Research Center. Virginia Hope worked for 2 years with American Indians for Development in Meriden, Conn. She was active in lobbying in the late 1960s for the Connecticut Council of Indian Affairs, and she had an early involvement with the National Congress of American Indians.

In 1967, she was the secretary and a leading force in the Descendants of the Tribe of Mohegan Indians of Connecticut, and in 1970, led the nominations supporting Courtland Fowler for Chief. She served as secretary to the Mohegan Tribe through the 1970s and early '80s. She devoted herself to the cause of federal recognition, in the tribe's first effort of 1984, and in the later successful bid of 1994.

Virginia Hope's Mohegan name was ''Singing Woman.''

She was a Nonner of the Mohegan Tribe, and the 1997 recipient of The Little Hatchet award. Virginia Hope is survived by her four daughters: Faith Marie Damon Davison of Uncasville, with whom she made her home; Cheryl Irene Damon Harris of East Haven; Christine Ann Damon Murtha and her husband, Philip, of Norwich; and Sharon Inez Damon Maynard and her husband, Raymond, of New London. She was predeceased by her husband, Harland; her brother, Norman Eugene Sword, a half-sister, Carol Labensky, and two grandsons, Douglass Harland Davison and Aaron Sword Murtha.

''She was an example to all of us,'' said Faith Marie Damon Davison. ''Her grandchildren will always remember their weekend trips with Virginia and her mother, Beatrice, to the many Indian gatherings throughout the Northeast, her concern for the future of all tribes, and also they will remember her fierce championship of truth. She will be sadly missed by her many grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren and her companion, Donald.''

In honoring Virginia Hope's wishes the family requested that those living should benefit rather than have money spent in tribute to the deceased. So in lieu of flowers, donations in her memory may be made to: Save the Children, 54 Wilton Rd., Westport, CT 06880; Animal Welfare League of New London County, Inc. P.O. Box 1760 Groton, CT 06340; Christ Episcopal Church 78 Washington Street, Norwich, CT 06360; or a charity of one's choice.

Funeral services were scheduled to take place at Christ Episcopal Church in Norwich Feb. 23.