Virginia Jacobs McLaughlin would have been 101 years old this year. Her artistic contributions were celebrated at the Gettysburg G.A.R Hall last week.
McLaughlin was “Nana” to her family. And to the Historic Gettysburg Adams County Preservation Society (HGAC), headquartered at G.A.R. Hall, she is a legend.
McLaughlin owned, with her husband Don, the Antique Cupboard in Fairfield. She began painting murals when Don, then president of the HGAC, asked her to undertake the decoration of the newly acquired and renovated G.A.R. Hall.
In addition to the mural she painted there, she also created murals in over 100 other buildings, from Adams County to Mount Vernon.
She painted her one-hundredth mural at the age of ninety-two.
A hush settled over the gathered friends and family as Salyer McLaughlin, Virginia’s documentary filmmaker son, began his presentation with a reading of the proclamation honoring his father who had done so much to acquire and renovate the G.A.R. building in the early 1970’s.
Writer Jeanne Blackburn spoke about meeting McLaughlin in 2001 when asked to pen an article for a Frederick publication while she was painting an eighty-foot mural for the Frederick, MD Ross House. McLaughlin moved from Adams County to Frederick when she was 98.
Blackburn, whose book about McLaughlin, “Itinerant Painter,” describes her work, also wrote many subsequent articles about the painter. She said the woman she thought of as a second mom had “the strength and determination to always do her best made me in awe of the person she was.”
Salyer shared two videos, the first of his mother’s life work, which showed McLaughlin in her later years still climbing on scaffolding to paint the majestic Ross House mural. Salyer was shown working with her, painting her backgrounds, which he did for many years. The other was a touching video of her life story, culminating with the celebration of her ninetieth birthday. “She was an angel, and she made everyone feel like they were, too,” said Sayler.
Sayler’s brother Bruce McLaughlin acknowledged the members of the HGAC board who continue to “provide the consistency that this building needs to survive,” He then read a quote from a letter his father had written to his alma mater, Yale, when the alumnae association asked about his accomplishments. “She was the love of his life, he said.”
Bruce said his father wrote to Yale that his accomplishment was that “I married a truly remarkable woman.”
Jackie White, a former board member and one of the volunteers who worked so hard during the original acquisition and renovation of G.A.R Hall, told the crowd about the extremely rundown condition at the time. She talked about the need for funding to continue the maintenance that is necessary now for both the interior and exterior of the building.
McLaughlin’s granddaughter, Ever Lee, spoke lovingly of being with her through the Covid lockdown. She was with McLaughlin at her death. “She died in my arms,” she said.
Ever Lee continues her grandmother’s way of making everyone else feel like an angel, too, as she encouraged the crowd always to strive to do their best work and never stop learning.
Featured image: McLaughlin and a panel from the G.A.R mural.