Rachel Presha, also known as the Purple Lady, pictured at home in Pughsville with daughter Delzorra Presha. The legend of the Purple Lady features in a new book, “Peninsula in Passage.”

Archived Story

Purple Lady featured in book

Published 10:56pm Friday, December 7, 2012

Immaculately attired in a purple skirt-suit and with fingernails neatly painted the same color, the Purple Lady sits on a leather sofa in her daughter’s neat Pughsville home.

Rachel Presha, an 87-year-old with mild dementia, never misses a Saturday at Temple Beth-El, a place of worship for the Church of God and Saints of Christ.

Every other day, she is taken out and returned home by a Sentara care program for the elderly, allowing her to play plenty of bingo and other games with friends.

“She went to Washington to the Martin Luther King (Jr.) statue during the time of the dedication,” said the daughter, Delzorra Presha.

The Purple Lady also recently saw the musical “Wicked” in Norfolk — the purple-centered production pleased her — cast a vote for President Barack Obama and, further back, took in a performance of “The Lion King” in New York.

Long-time Suffolk residents, and new ones aware of the legend, would know of the Purple Lady’s fame for painting purple telephone poles and various other things along Route 17.

Folks would spot her engaged in what seemed to be an all-consuming pastime, bedecked in her favorite color, and treasure the honor.

Then she left town and wasn’t heard from before resurfacing in Suffolk and moving in with her daughter in 2010.

Now the public spotlight is back on the Purple Lady, whose unconventional story features among others in a new book on North Suffolk’s heritage, “Peninsula in Passage.”

After leaving Suffolk, the Purple Lady first lived in Toledo, Ohio, inspired to do so by the holy city of Toledo in Spain, her daughter says.

“She was as popular in Toledo as she was in Virginia,” Delzorra Presha said. “She would sing, and people would love to hear her sing. She had newspaper articles from Toledo.” She then lived with another daughter in Brooklyn.

Delzorra Presha was a secretary in New York before deciding to move back to Suffolk in 2003.

“We didn’t know where she was when she left here around 1988,” Presha said of her mother’s disappearance. “We put an article in the paper (to try to find her). She didn’t tell us anything.”

Presha said her mother is an “iconoclast. When I heard of that word, I said, ‘That’s my mother.’”

“Peninsula in Passage,” a project by Suffolk River Heritage, formerly the Crittenden-Eclipse-Hobson Heritage Foundation, is the creation of Phyllis Speidell and John Sheally, both retired from The Virginian-Pilot, and former schoolteacher Karla Smith.

For $39.95, it’s available from Bennett’s Creek Pharmacy, A. Dodson’s and Bennett’s Creek Farm Market & Deli along Bridge Road; Harris Tire Service in Churchland, Crittenden Frame Shop on Eclipse Drive and the Suffolk Visitor Center.

A book signing and talk is scheduled for Arthur’s General Store in Driver, beginning at 6 p.m. on Dec. 21.

The book is also available online at www.cehfoundation.org.

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  • SANSR

    A wonderful story. I moved to this part of the state back in 1980 and always found a reason to drive along Route 17 just to see the purple telephone poles. They were such an iconic part of that part of the highway. And I always wondered how they got that way. It was many years later that I learned about The Purple Lady and for along time I thought it was a local urban legend. Welcome home Ms. Rachel and thank you for a moment to reflect on a less hectic time. Be well and Merry Christmas to you and your family.

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  • ANewCreation

    Welcome Home “Purple Lady”! I still think of the purple telephone poles every time I ride down Route 17. Glad you are back. Sounds like you have lived an interesting and full life. Hope you continue to enjoy yourself for a long time to come. If I see some purple telephone poles popping up around Suffolk, I’ll know your’e at it again:>)

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