“From the Blue Ridge to the Bay” – Jan Marthinson Mewhinney, May 2, 1931 – December 11, 2014
She was there when I took my first breath, so it was only fitting that I was next to her and holding her hand when she took her last. After a devastating diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer that had already metastasized, I spent most of her last six weeks with her. My siblings and I took turns so that one of us was always there, and we were fortunate enough to find not only a competent nurse, but Hospice of the Rappahannock as well, so we were able to keep my mother in her own home with its view of Dividing Creek where it empties into the Chesapeake Bay on Virginia’s Northern Neck near Kilmarnock.
It was a painful, yet poignant six weeks. Along with the cancer came nearly full blown dementia, that was particularly hard for us to accept since only a week prior to the diagnosis, Mom had lived on her own, widowed the past 5 years from her second husband, in her pretty home on the water where she’d lived full time since moving there from Alexandria in 1982. Strong, independent and the consummate lady, she’d always been able to take care of herself, so in her lucid moments she could be mean—she resented being patronized and treated like a child. But there were also moments where she’d flash her acerbic wit and be her old self. And most of the time, even when she was making no sense, it was still easy to make her laugh like she used to.
Not until later in life did I appreciate Mom’s lessons. Much as we hated it, we all had to attend ballroom dance school as adolescents. Education was important to her and while integration – when it came to Alexandria’s public schools – was acceptable mixing the brightest students with the slowest was not; so all four of us attended private schools. She was always a favorite of our friends growing up, but she would not tolerate certain behaviors from us, and wouldn’t hesitate to reprimand us if we cursed or correct bad grammar, poor table manners or rudeness. To our chagrin, she wasn’t afraid to correct our friends for their infractions, either. I never heard her curse nor raise her voice although she could wither you with sarcasm.
Although Mom had grown up in a wealthy Washington D.C. family, she wasn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and to go work when she and my father divorced. When I was in college, she remarried her husband of 33 years, Frederick Harrison Mewhinney, who predeceased her, as did our father, her former husband Oliver Ashby Reardon, of Alexandria, She was born in 1931 in Washington D.C., daughter of Detlow Mainch Marthinson and Ruth Griswold Coleman Marthinson, and the sister of Sherrard M. Addison and Capt. Detlow M. Marthinson Jr., USN, all deceased.
She graduated from the Holton Arms School in Washington D.C. and Wells College, Aurora, N.Y. While in the Washington area she was a member of the Junior League of Washington and married her first husband, settling in Alexandria where she joined the Society of U.S. Navy Sponsors. She christened the U.S. Navy ship USS Pierre, while Ashby Reardon was its commanding officer.
During the 1970s she worked as the creative director of an advertising agency, then ran the International Kitchen Shop at Iberian Imports, both in Alexandria. She and her second husband bought a weekend house on the Northern Neck near Kilmarnock in Ditchley, VA and they moved there fulltime in 1982. There, she opened her own high end kitchen shop, called Company’s Coming in Kilmarnock. It became very popular with cooks from as far away as Canada as well as the entire Tidewater area.
Mom loved her flowers and tending her rose gardens and perennial beds, and was a founding member of the Northern Neck Rose Society, served as a member of the Lancaster-Northumberland Master Gardeners and as emeritus member of the Rappahannock Garden Club. She was a long-time volunteer at Historic Christ Church in Weems, and served on the Herbs Committee. As a communicant of Grace Episcopal Church in Kilmarnock, she was an active member of their altar guild, of which she served as chair for several years. She was also a member of the Indian Creek Yacht & Country Club, and volunteered at the Lancaster Community Library.
She leaves behind four children from her first marriage, and was buried at Historic Christ Church, near Irvington; with services held afterward at Grace Church in Kilmarnock. As 2015 begins, I find myself once again undertaking the journey from my farm in the Blue Ridge to her home on the Bay. It is an easy three-hour drive, and although little has changed in the 35 years I’ve been making it, now everything has. She will be missed.
Written by: Julie Reardon