Virginia Bates, a poet and artist who opposed the Vietnam War and was a founder of the Howard County Peace Action Community, died of complications from the flu Dec. 9 at Bridgepoint of Los Altos, an assisted-living facility in California. The former Woodbine resident was 88.
Virginia Neumann was born in Baltimore. She was the daughter of William Neumann, a plumber, and Elinor Neumann, a homemaker. She was a 1942 graduate of Western High School and earned a degree in literature from Case-Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
She taught fifth grade at a South Baltimore public school before she took a job with the relief agency CARE in Baltimore.
"She then picked up and went to New York City without any prospects," said her son, William A. Bates of Mount Airy.
There she married Abraham Bates, an accountant, in 1950. They lived for a decade in Manhattan and on Staten Island. In 1961, they moved to a family property in Woodbine and lived in a home on 10 wooded acres.
Mrs. Bates began writing poetry and had her work published in The Baltimore Sun, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation Journal, The Columbia Flier, Unitarian Universalist Word and the Little Patuxent Review.
"She took unpopular stands," said her son. "By nature she was a shy person, but she was able to overcome that reticence by speaking in public."
In 1979, she won a $1,000 grand prize in the World of Poetry contest. A Sun article said her work often expressed "maternal feelings and anti-militaristic values."
One of her poems, "Pieta," used a mother's "point of view in nurturing a son who dies in war," The Sun article said.
In 1968, she became a co-founder of the Howard County Peace Action Community and edited its newsletter for many years.
"She took on all forms of violence, even what she considered the violence in football," said Patricia Birnie, a friend who lives in Sandy Spring. "She had very strong feelings and personally was a sweet, shy and gentle person."
In 2000, she displayed her paintings at an Ellicott City Barnes & Noble store, but was told to remove seven of them, paintings she called a "social awareness series."
"With her wispy gray hair and soft, peach-colored attire, Virginia Bates seems like the last person who could ever offend anyone," said a 2000 article in The Sun.
"They said that some people — they didn't say whether it was two or 10 — objected to the fact that I had blood and skulls in my paintings," Mrs. Bates said in The Sun article. "I am not a prude, and at my age there is very little that shocks me, except for this. When they called to tell me they were taking down some of my paintings, it was shocking, and for a minute I couldn't speak.'"
The article said the seven acrylic works depicted "a weeping Statue of Liberty and children clutching balloons and guns." The paintings were Mrs. Bates' "commentaries on violence, disease, smoking, alcoholism and war."
A store official said they were removed out "of concern for younger customers."
"It's all coming so close together, the alcoholism, the violence, the racism," Mrs. Bates said in The Sun article. "We have to be aware of these things. We can't stick our heads in the sand."
In 1983, she received the Howard County Human Rights Commission Individual Achievement Award for her work on peace and human rights. In 2005, she was elected to the Howard County Women's Hall of Fame.
The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore owns 24 of her paintings.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. March 29 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 7246 Cradlerock Way in Columbia.
In addition to her son, survivors include a daughter, Victoria E. Levy of Los Altos, Calif.; and two grandchildren. Her husband of 47 years died in 1997.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun