by Henry Lane Hull
Thirty years ago at a board meeting of Northumberland Preservation Inc. (NPI), I suggested the organization consider approaching James and Emily Hudnall to inquire about NPI acquiring the Shiloh School in Ball’s Neck.
The organization’s president at the time was the late Bob Byrne, a man who literally never let moss grow under his feet. Later that week Bob asked the Hudnalls, who graciously agreed to donate the property to NPI, thus began one of the Northern Neck’s greatest volunteer historic preservation projects.
The following year I succeeded Bob as president and by the end of my term four years later the large host of gifted carpenters and metalsmiths had succeeded in stabilizing and restoring the building, a task that continued apace under my successor, Emily Lawson.
In the restoration process two of the most important resources were the late Melvin Pitman, about whom I wrote an item upon his death last year, and Margaret Pitman. Both of them retained vivid memories, which they happily shared with those of us involved in the on-going work of saving the structure for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.
When she died last week at the age of 96, Margaret was the last surviving pupil who had studied at the Shiloh School. Margaret followed the restoration undertaking with keen interest, often commenting that she and her classmates never could have envisioned that they were studying in a historic building. She especially was proud of the volunteer effort that went into the undertaking and was most encouraging to everyone who labored to achieve the end result. Initially, our group had hoped to be able to move the original school building, that had been moved to a farm down the road, back to the site, but another 25 years were to pass before that goal became a reality.
Volunteering was an habitual practice for Margaret. For decades she was the lower Northern Neck coordinator for the American Heart Association. She attended innumerable meetings and was the repository for all funds collected locally, an activity she continued well into her 80s. Whenever a family in bereavement requested donations to the A.H.A., Margaret was the person donors contacted and after receiving their memorial contributions, in her impeccable penmanship she would write a letter to the family telling the members of the donor’s generosity and expressing her own sympathy and condolences as well.
Margaret loved children and for many years she operated a private kindergarten in her historic home, “Road View,” always being thrilled to see the progress her students were making. She was multi-talented and endeavored to instill in her pupils the same love of learning in all of its facets that characterized her own life. When one of her graduates entered first grade, he or she was prepared for whatever the teacher required. After she retired from the home classroom, that same level of dedication was available with Helen Pitman, in whose pre-school the two B.E.s matriculated.
At the age of 83, Margaret sustained the death of her son John’s wife, Tanya, who succumbed to cancer at the age of 45. Tanya was a delightful export to the Northern Neck from her native Croatia. With her death at such a youthful age, she left two daughters, whose upbringing Margaret immediately undertook, providing them with the example of a loving and devoted grandmother, who, like their mother, was an inspiration to all who knew her. Two years ago, in her mid-90s, her elder son, Freddy, who had devoted his career to the enhancement of education in Richmond County, died following a lengthy illness, which Margaret accepted as the true Christian she was.
Margaret lived for almost a century, contributing to the quality of life we often assume as a given, but because of people like her, it is not a given, but a gift. Many heart patients, whose names and numbers are known but to the Almighty, have benefited from Margaret’s dedication to the American Heart Association. Her many pupils attained later academic successes on the foundations she laid in her kindergarten. The present state of the restored Shiloh School exists in large measure because of her memories of its heyday.
Most importantly of all, her granddaughters had the blessing of her love and direction in their own time of youthful loss.
Helen Margaret Ingram Pitman, December 5, 1920 – July 18, 2017. R.I.P.