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June 24, 2014 > Ohlone Humane Society Column: The animals lose a championÉ remembering Virginia Handley

Ohlone Humane Society Column: The animals lose a championÉ remembering Virginia Handley

By Nancy Lyon

Sometimes people leave us too soon, we are unprepared for their departure. That was how it was when Virginia Handley unexpectedly passed away in March of this year, leaving a huge gap in the humane movement and the lives of her many friends.

My first memory of Virginia was back in 1991 or 1992; another OHS member and I decided to attend the annual Fund for Animals Christmas party in San Francisco, it was our first time and as newcomers we really didnÕt know many of the people who would be there. As part of the entertainment, we were treated to a chorus line lead by Virginia and comprised of ladies of varying ages and talent with top hats, shorts, sparkling ruby red tap shoes and lots of laughs. That was my first inkling of VirginiaÕs great sense of humor and dry wit; later, I discovered what a multi-faceted person she was Ð reader to the blind, a singer, comedienne, and involved in little theater, attributes that probably helped her to off-set the harsh reality of the cruelty and suffering that must be dealt within the animal protection/rights arena.

From the early days on, she and her fellow cohorts, Gladys Sargent (Pets and Pals), Rose Lernberg, and Eric Mills (Action for Animals) often faced the derision and mockery of boorish legislators who didnÕt Òget itÓ that these folks, strangely dedicated to protecting animals from abuse and cruelty, were there for the long haul.

When you got to know Virginia, you got to know her as a compassionate, multi-talented person Ðlife-long fierce advocate and lobbyist for animals Ð who for 40 years, spoke out on their behalf in the halls of the California Legislature, fighting for their protection under the law. An unassuming individual who served as the West Coast coordinator and lobbyist for author Cleveland AmoryÕs Fund for Animals, later managing and manning The Animal Switchboard hotline helping to solve just about every kind of animal problem imaginable from the FundÕs small San Francisco office at Fort Mason.

In 1980, Virginia co-founded Paw PAC, CaliforniaÕs first non-partisan/non-profit political action committee for animals. She tirelessly charted the yearly animal/environment related voting record of each legislator and scored them accordingly. With the documented votes in the Paw PAC report card published, voters were able to track the record of congressional members, informing and influencing peopleÕs future contributions and ballots. She was working on the chart at the time of her death.

She was the ultimate mentor, patiently listening and explaining - sometimes for the third or fourth time Ð the ins and outs of the California legislative process to those of us struggling to grasp Òhow things workedÓ in the hallowed halls of the State Capitol. Today, there are few pieces of worthwhile California animal protection/welfare laws where you donÕt find Virginia Handley deeply involved in their passage.

Over the years her dedication and persistence made her a force to be reckoned with; as a legislator you may not have liked or agreed with her mission, but you couldnÕt help respecting her enduring commitment to making the world more humane for animals. Fittingly, a service was held in VirginiaÕs memory in the State Capitol at the end of May. Her longtime friend Eric Mills stated ÒIn my opinion, Virginia was the single best animal activist in California, ever.Ó

ItÕs been two months since Virginia left us and the animal-caring community has come together to comfort and re-home her three little dogs that were left behind. They were, of course, the less placeables that Virginia took in when no one else would.

Virginia, you are missed.

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