IRVINGTON—Helen Pender Withers of Irvington died peacefully at age 95, at Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury on December 22, 2022.
Helen was born in Norfolk in 1927, the daughter of Stephen Lee Pender and Helen Tilley Pender. She graduated from Miss Turnbull’s School in Norfolk and subsequently attended and graduated from Sweet Briar College.
In 1949, she married Joseph Burks Withers Jr. Helen, Burks and their three children lived in Virginia Beach. There she and Burks were active members of Galilee Episcopal Church. Helen served as president of the Norfolk-Virginia Beach Junior League and the Virginia Beach Garden Club. Among the several community boards on which she served was The Planning Council of the United Way in Norfolk. In 1972, she joined The Planning Council staff, where she worked for 12 years.
Shortly following her husband’s retirement, Helen and Burks moved to the Northern Neck in 1984, and resided in White Stone. Both Helen and Burks were enthusiastic church members and volunteers. Helen became an active member of Grace Episcopal Church, serving as president of the Women of Grace. Helen also served as president of the Woman’s Club of White Stone and was a member of the Rappahannock Garden Club, head of the Volunteer Council of Historic Christ Church and a volunteer for the American Red Cross Blood Drive. Later Helen also served on the Vestry of Grace Episcopal Church.
Among her family and friends she is best known for her love of the game of mahjong. She has been described as the “pied piper who would bring scores of Northern Neck women and a few good men to the game.” She taught mahjong classes in White Stone and Irvington which served as fundraisers for the Woman’s Club. Many of her students referred to her as the “Queen of Mahjong.” Helen was a most loving wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend of many, and she will be missed dearly.
Helen was preceded in death by her beloved husband, Burks; and her precious grandson, Brandon Lee Withers.
She is survived by two daughters, Lee Ellett (Ted) of Alexandria and Frances Foster of Portola Valley, Calif.; a son, Joseph Burks Withers III (Beth) of Virginia Beach; six grandchildren, Pender Graves (Whit) of Charlottesville, Taz Ellett of Falls Church, Dabney Bowe (Tim) of Locust Valley, N.Y., Matthew Foster (Victoria) of Salinas, Calif., Dylan Foster of Palo Alto, Calif., and Ashlee Withers of Roanoke. Helen also is survived by eight great-grandchildren.
Helen’s family wishes to express their sincere thanks to the staff and caregivers at Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury for their devoted care of her over the last few years. A memorial service will be held at Grace Episcopal Church in Kilmarnock later in 2023.
In lieu of flowers, contributions in Helen’s memory may be made to The Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury Foundation, Grace Episcopal Church or a charity of one’s choice.