Yancey Birdsong, 108, dies in Norfolk

Published 10:28 pm Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The legacy of a great woman will be remembered in Suffolk for years to come following her death Tuesday.

At 108 years old, Yancey Birdsong’s age alone was notable. But her life will be remembered for far more than that, friends said Wednesday.

Yancey Birdsong

Yancey Birdsong

“She has left a great void in this town because she was such an institution for so long,” said Carol Lynne Shotton. “She was a force to be reckoned with.”

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Birdsong was born in Cleveland, Tenn., on Jan. 28, 1906. She graduated from Longwood College in 1928 with a Bachelor of Science degree in music.

She landed in Suffolk, where she briefly was the music supervisor for the public schools before marrying William M. Birdsong and raising her family.

Birdsong was known for having ridden out a 1933 hurricane at a clubhouse in the middle of the Nansemond River — while pregnant with her first son — after the vacationing party got trapped there in those days before warning of hurricanes came days in advance.

Birdsong would go on to have three boys, who were her pride and joy.

Shotton recalled when the new owner of Birdsong’s home called Birdsong to find out what kind of plants she had grown in the backyard.

“I grew boys,” was the response, Shotton said. “Her backyard was full of boys instead of flowers and bushes.”

Former state Sen. Fred Quayle went to school with Birdsong’s middle son, Cabell, and recalled being one of those boys who frequented the backyard.

“I probably spent as much time in Yancey’s home as I did in my own for much of my growing up,” Quayle said. “She was a wonderful lady, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with her and her family over the years. It absolutely amazed me that she stayed as alert mentally and as strong physically as she did up until the very end.”

Birdsong was active in many community and church activities. She was the founding president of the Louise Obici Memorial Hospital Auxiliary and volunteered at the hospital for many years. She was a member of Nansemond River Garden Club, Suffolk Literary Club, Suffolk Book Club, Suffolk Historical Society and Suffolk Art League. She enjoyed playing bridge and belonged to several bridge clubs, only stopping about two years ago.

At Main Street United Methodist Church she was active on many committees and was a Sunday School teacher and circle leader as well as president of the United Methodist Women.

“She was a great lady,” said Austin Darden, Birdsong’s nephew. “She was very nice, very industrious and a community leader; just a nice person.”

Birdsong also served on the School Board from 1956 to 1962. Joyce Trump, who was superintendent of the schools many years later, knew Birdsong well after Trump moved to Suffolk.

“Being new to Suffolk and being introduced to a lot of people, I just always remember how gracious and kind she was to me,” Trump said. “I have always admired her generosity and her kindness to people. The way she lived and how she treated people is something we could all use as an example of how to live our lives.”

Yancey Birdsong is survived by two sons and their wives, a daughter-in-law, and eight grandchildren and their spouses, along with 14 great-grandchildren and many other family members.

The family will receive friends tonight at R.W. Baker & Co. Funeral Home and Crematory, 509 W. Washington St., from 5 to 7 p.m. A memorial service will be held Friday at Main Street United Methodist Church, 202 N. Main St., Suffolk, at 11 a.m.