Many years ago, on my first trip to Italy, when in Rome I visited the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, less than a block away from the Pantheon. As the only original gothic church in Rome, the interior is quite different from the classical and baroque churches that abound throughout the city. The title comes from the church having been built in the Middle Ages atop the ruins of the ancient Roman Temple of Minerva.
Minerva was the goddess of wisdom, the Latin equivalent of the Greek goddess Athena. Minerva was the greatest of the Roman female deities, and she was revered not only for her wisdom, but also as a patroness of justice, law and the arts. I never knew anyone named Minerva until I met RayLee Keyser, whose birth name was Minerva, shortly after her marriage to W.R. Keyser in 1994. In her childhood, one of her brothers had difficulty in pronouncing Minerva, which came out as RayLee, and the name remained as her identity for the rest of her life.
Naming her Minerva was to prove to be a prophetic sign for the future course that she would be following, inasmuch as she exhibited many of the traits associated with the Roman deity. RayLee was gifted in wisdom, and she was a person of significant resourcefulness. She had a consummate ability to put things together, whether in the area of home décor or as a writer where her flair for words came through initially in two works she wrote about life in the Northern Neck, Remembering and Down Memory Lane. In the latter, she described her early years growing up in a large family in Ditchley.
RayLee was an articulate speaker, who enjoyed serving as a lector at church, where the mellifluous tone of her voice added to the importance of the message contained in the Scripture. After she and W.R. committed matrimony, she began researching what I liked to tell him was her masterpiece—namely, The Life and Times of W.R. Keyser. In it, working with hundreds of pieces of data she had gathered and researched from albums, official records, photographs, letters and personal reflections, she covered the important role W.R. has played in the recent history of the lower Northern Neck. The book is an opened time-capsule that looks into the past as well as the present.
In undertaking a writing project, RayLee was a prodigious researcher, who was undaunted by what to others might have appeared to be blind alleys in getting to the facts at hand. She enjoyed going to the courthouses to pore over documents, making copies and learning how all the pieces of history fitted together. To use a trite expression, she literally “left no stone unturned” in getting to the bottom of her search. Coupled with that level of fastidious investigative ability, she also had the talent to present her work with true literary panache.
Throughout the course of her life of almost nine decades, RayLee always was, to use the term often cited by the late Margaret Hillier, “correct.” In any gathering, she was a presence, whether from her meticulous appearance, her measured words, or simply by being there. She epitomized the meaning of being a Virginia Lady, and like the ancient Minerva, she was admired by all who knew her, and appreciated for her wisdom and generous spirit.
Minerva “RayLee” Dize Mitchell Keyser, November 1, 1931–May 16, 2021. R.I.P.