In Memory of James Jewel Geary
May 14, 1914 - February 25, 2017
James Jewel Geary, of Harrisonburg, died February 25, 2017 at the age of 102. Mr. Geary was the principal creator, designer and founding director of the New Market Battlefield Park and its museum, the Hall of Valor. Appointed by Virginia Military Institute, he held the position from 1966 to 1982 when he retired and he subsequently served another seven years as a consultant.
Before coming to the Valley, Mr. Geary was the executive director of the Virginia Civil War Centennial Commission, charged with the five-year Virginia observance of the Civil War. The headquarters was in a specially constructed visitor center in downtown Richmond, the Centennial Center. The climactic event of the commemoration was a program at Appomattox Court House, April 9, 1965, the 100th anniversary of General Robert E. Lee's surrender there of his Army of Northern Virginia. The historian, Bruce Catton, gave the address to an estimated ten thousand spectators, including Virginia's entire Congressional delegation.
Mr. Geary was born in Pittsburgh, PA, on May 14, 1914, the son of James M. Geary and Iva Jewel Geary. From age four, he lived in Roanoke, VA. After graduating from the University of Virginia, he was a newsman for 16 years in Roanoke and with the Associated Press in Richmond. He served for three and one-half years as a Naval officer in World War II. He was a lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve Retired, a member of the Harrisonburg chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, and a past president of the Shenandoah Valley Travel Association. He was a charter member of the Harrisonburg Unitarian Universalists.
It's difficult to summarize a life that spans over one-hundred years. One of Jim's first memories, riding in a car in the midst of a sea of people, the sound of cowbells ringing all around, was most likely during a celebration of the armistice on November 11, 1918, ending World War I. He had a soft spot for Pittsburgh, the city of his birth and where he spent many summers with his father, grandmother and father's sisters, but in his own words: "I am at core a Virginian - and not just a Virginian, but a mountain Virginian. I have an extraordinary attachment to the mountains, the sweeping hills, and the lovely meadows of western Virginia." He picked apples as a youngster, taught children in a one-room country schoolhouse, found his calling as a newspaper man, served as a Navy officer during WWII, covered the Virginia Capital for the Associated Press, and made his career as a historian of the Civil War. Jim traveled widely, visiting 48 of the 50 states, 28 countries on 6 continents, and 32 National Parks. His interests were wide-ranging but he loved the natural world and the poetry of Robinson Jeffers. He studied the natural sciences, history, philosophy and world religions and took after his mother in his work in genealogy. He described himself as a determinist, a philosopher, and a humanist. Repeatedly, in his personal writings, he said it was his family that gave him purpose.
He is survived by his wife, Patricia Little Geary, five daughters, Anne Biswanger of Carmel, CA, Ellen Maupin of Carmel, CA, Martha Broughton (Paul) of Richmond, Laetitia Barnhill of Salem, and Leslie Geary of Santa Cruz, CA, one stepson, Michael Martin of Harrisonburg, ten grandchildren, two step-grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and two step-great-grandchildren.
He was predeceased by his baby sister, Iva "Tissie" Geary and a step-son, Frank Martin. A memorial service will be held at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to American Indian College Fund, Rockingham-Harrisonburg SPCA, or Harrisonburg Unitarian Universalists.