Virginia Ruth McKinney Henderson was born in Cleveland, Ohio on February 19th, 1932 and walked through the Pearly Gates on April 27th, 2019.
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Virginia Ruth was the daughter of Annie Ruth Berry McKinney and Rev. Wade Hampton McKinney, Jr. She had two older brothers, Wade Hampton McKinney lll and Samuel Berry McKinney, and an identical twin sister, Mary Louise McKinney. She received her primary education in the Cleveland Public Schools, graduating from John Adams High School in 1949. She was very active in Antioch Baptist Church where her father served as Senior Pastor. In high school she excelled academically, athletically and musically. And it was in her high school orchestra that she met her future husband Dr. Perry A. Henderson. He played the string bass and she played the cello. They would later date in college and make beautiful music together for the rest of her life.
Virginia Ruth matriculated to Spelman College in Atlanta, GA and again excelled She was a straight-A student and was very involved in campus life. One of her favorite activities was singing in the renowned Spelman Glee Club. She graduated in 1953 with a B.A. in Psychology as the salutatorian of her class (her twin sister was valedictorian). She then attended Boston University, in Boston, MA where she received her M.A. in Psychology in 1955. There she spent many hours with her friend, Martin Luther King, Jr. who was working toward his doctorate at the time. She was by his side as he defended his dissertation and he fondly called her “Li’l Sis.” She is humble about her friendship with Dr. King, and shares many qualities with him; wisdom, a commitment to justice, kindness, and generosity of spirit.
In 1957 Virginia and Perry married in a double wedding ceremony with her twin sister, Mary, and brother-in-law, Jack Calvin Edmonds at her father’s church – Antioch Baptist. The church overflowed that day with more than 2000 guests.
In 1959, Virginia and Perry moved to San Diego, CA and welcomed their first child, Sheryl Louise, in 1960. Their second child, Virginia Lucille (aka Jasmine) was born in Cleveland, OH in 1962, and in 1966 their third child, Perry Anderson, Jr. (aka Andy) was born in Seattle, WA. Virginia Ruth brilliantly balanced her role as wife and mother as she continued going to school and working, while raising her family.
The family moved to Albuquerque, NM in 1968 where Virginia Ruth continued her education at the University of New Mexico, earning a Ph.D. in Curriculum Instruction and Developmental Psychology, in 1974. There she was as an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine (1968 – 1976).
In 1976, the family moved to Madison, WI where she took a job as a School Psychologist in the Madison Metropolitan School District (1976 – 1997). She was the Chair of the city’s Minority Student Achievement Initiatives (1988 – 1991) and then became the Special Assistant to the Superintendent for Equity and Diversity (1991 -1997). Virginia Ruth “retired” in June of 1997 but remained a Diversity Consultant to the School District, working to eliminate racial disparities and create equitable opportunities in education for all students. To this end, Virginia Ruth created the African American Ethnic Academy in 1993 to supplement the education of African American children, build their self-esteem and increase their capacity to excel in the world.
Virginia Ruth was an extraordinary volunteer who sat on the boards of several organizations and served as the President of the African American Ethnic Academy. Some of the boards that benefited from her influence are the African American Children’s Society, the American Baptist Assembly, Community Coordinated Child Care (4 C’s), Madison Children’s Museum, Project Opportunity, the Urban League of Greater Madison, Vantage Point, Visiting Nurse’s Association, Women’s Health Initiative, YWCA, and more.
She was a founding member of Women in Focus (WIF), an organization that provides programs, services and scholarships for underserved youth. She co-founded the WIF “I Have a Dream” Scholarship Ball which honors the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She was an active member of Rotary International with whom she traveled to India, Australia, Spain, and Ireland. She also visited the homeland of Africa, traveling to Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Senegal, and South Africa.
Virginia did not boast about her numerous honors and awards, though she was the recipient of many: The Teacher of the Year for the Madison School District, the YWCA Woman of Distinction Leadership Award, Outstanding African American Educator, Tiffany Award at Spelman College, and most recently she was honored with Rotary International’s Avenues of Service Citation (Feb. 2019). She is also well known, along with her husband Perry for making an impact in the community with their service and generosity. Together they received the Dane County Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Greater Madison Chapter of Fundraising Professionals, a Rotary Senior Service Award, the Whitney M. Young Award (Urban League) and the Circle of Care Humanitarian Award from the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin, and numerous others.
While Virginia Ruth was extremely accomplished and made an enormous impact locally and globally, it was her family that she put first and foremost. She was present for every soccer game, track meet, concert, musical, and play that involved her children. She baked birthday cakes, made candles, made clothes, cooked extraordinary meals, gardened, and always had hot chocolate ready when her family came in from the cold. She pushed herself to do things that made her uncomfortable, whether it was fishing, riding a horse, riding an elephant, cross country skiing or holding a snake. She was an incredible wife and loved her husband fiercely. She was a wonderful mother to her children, a loving grandmother and “Mom” to numerous others. She was a terrific daughter, sister, cousin and aunt.
Though she was living with Alzheimer’s during the last few years of her life, Virginia Ruth’s grace, dignity, faith, humor, feistiness and love was apparent to all she encountered. She was cared for by a vigilant and loving team who became family: Holly Markham, Latanya Maymon, and Fatima Zahid.
Virginia Ruth was preceded in death by her mother Annie Ruth Berry McKinney, father Dr. Rev. Wade Hampton McKinney Jr., brother Wade Hampton McKinney, lll, brother Samuel Berry McKinney and identical twin sister Mary Louise McKinney Edmonds.
She is survived by her husband of 61 years, Dr. Perry A. Henderson, children Sheryl Henderson of Madison, WI, Virginia Lucille, aka Jasmine (Shauna Adams) of Portland, OR and Perry Henderson (Judy Clair) of Boston, MA, grandchildren, Adin Peter, Jonah Wade, Rebecca Ruth and numerous nieces, nephews, cousins, and others who call her Mom.
Virginia Ruth was a wonderful human being and is now an amazing angel. She will be missed by scores of friends and colleagues, but most especially her family.
Fly free Virginia, “you have fought the good fight, you have finished the race, you have kept the faith.” 2: Timothy 4: 7 – 8
Memorial Contributions can be made to the following Organizations' Scholarship Funds:
(Please be sure to designate Henderson Scholarship Fund)
Madison Rotary Foundation
Perry and Virginia Henderson Scholarship Fund
2 S. Carroll St., Ste. 255
Madison, WI 53703
Women In Focus, Inc.
PO Box 44013
Madison, WI 53744