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Celebration of Life: Tede Johnson

Celebration of Life: “I want to die young, as late in life as possible.” (Tede Johnson 1928-2014)

Every life leaves an impression on this world – those impressions exist as memories and in some special cases – a legacy. Tede Johnson leaves us all with a legacy of selfless service, dedication and a passion for the protection of what is truly precious through education and support of the museum’s mission. However, Tede was so much more than our dearest and most dedicated volunteer – she was the heart and soul of our museum.

More than 26 years and 13,750 hours of volunteer service- Tede Johnson made an impression on countless lives. She was a force of nature; a role model and devoted advocate of the Virginia Living Museum. Often described as ‘Mother Nature’, Tede spent countless hours walking through the exhibits and museum grounds talking with guests educating them on our museums mission of conservation. Her passion for animals made her an ideal animal programs volunteer; while comfortable with any animal, Tede favored the owls. With so many years of knowledge at her disposal, Tede became a master storyteller – incalculable number of children and families carry with them fond memories of Tede’s weekend storytelling.

While everything Tede did for our museum will leave an impression for many generations to come – there are two unique gifts that remain some of the most memorable in establishing her legacy. Beyond Tede’s passion for volunteering; she recognized how important the Virginia Living Museum was to the Hampton Roads area and to future generations. She often gave presentations promoting the museum, regularly accompanied by our animal ambassadors. Tede was not one to sit idle, and co-chaired the Volunteer Fundraising committee which helped raise $100,000 for the museum. Her enthusiasm for our museum’s future was contagious and she helped us all see our true potential and realize the bright future that our museum would have through fundraising and education.

Tede’s second and potentially most lasting gift to us all was her artwork – she realized late in life that she had a remarkable gift. Over time Tede would produce original and unique works of art that can still be admired in our seasonal Christmas tree and in our museum store.

Tede truly encompassed the mission and heart of the VLM, so much so that her true impact on our museum is embodied through her lasting reputation – a staff member recently explained that although she never formally met Tede, she felt as if she had, through the stories and artwork that is so much a part of our museum’s daily beat. You did not need to meet Tede to understand the profound and indelible impact she had on countless guests and staff members through her years of service and support.

Few people leave a legacy as inspiring as Tede’s – we can only hope to honor what was started and what must continue in the memory of Ms. Thelma “Tede” Johnson.

Please join us in celebrating Tede’s remarkable life and share your memories and stories of Tede on November 3rd, 2014, 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm at the Virginia Living Museum.

“To live in the hearts of those we leave behind, is not to die”

Written by: Kristina Hamilton, Volunteer Services

1 Comment

  • Gloria Lombardi

    I just read this article and was moved to congratulate the author on getting Tede perfectly right. She was such a dear heart and loved giving her time and talents to the VLM. Not just in those things you mentioned but in the early days when the staff and volunteers didn’t number so many, she was known to bake goodies for us before coming in to do her volunteer shift! She was loved by many and taught us all so much. In the early days, I was asked to attend a state-wide meeting to share our “secrets” for amassing such a large staff of volunteers. I accepted the invitation and asked Tede to go with me to the 3-day conference. She was thrilled to go and talk about our program. By the end of the event, the group was impressed with what we had shared — and they all wanted a “Tede”! I’ve always said the true reason for the success of the VLM didn’t lie in the building or the artifacts but in the many wonderful people that have come and gone through the years, giving so freely of themselves to make “our museum” better. Tede was one of the best of those! She will be dearly missed and I am very proud to have had her in my life.

    Gloria Lombardi – former Director of Volunteer Services and former Executive Director of the VLM