Friend to animals, humans dies

Published 8:29 pm Monday, July 20, 2015

A friend to humans and animals alike died Friday at the age of 96.

Virginia Lee Mountjoy Hope, the wife of two-time Suffolk mayor James F. Hope Sr., passed away at her daughter’s home, said her daughter, also named Virginia Hope.

The elder Virginia Hope was a humane investigator for the city for more than 30 years. The unpaid position supported animal control officers and local police when animal control officers were not available.

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“She wanted everybody that had animals to take care of them,” her daughter said.

Creatures great and small, from orphaned baby opossums and squirrels to horses and hogs, were Hope’s passion. She took in the orphaned wildlife and hand-fed the animals before releasing them. She responded to dogs that had been hit by cars. Using the lights in the grille of her car, she stopped trailers hauling horses and hogs to check on the animals’ welfare.

Once, her daughter recalled, Hope arrived on the scene of a dog hit by a car where she had repeatedly told the dog’s owners before that they needed to keep the dog from running into the street. Standing in their doorway, she told the adults she wouldn’t let them have any more pets if they couldn’t keep the dogs in the house.

She then noticed a tearful boy standing behind his parents, holding a pet turtle and asking if he would have to give him up.

Her mother quickly reassured the boy that turtles were OK, since they are kept in a tank in the house.

“She was a very caring and empathetic person,” Hope said of her mother. “She helped a lot of people, not just animals.”

Earlier in life, Hope was a member of the Civil Air Patrol Air Force Auxiliary during World War II. She ferried planes from base to base during the war and dropped bags of flour on homes in the Richmond area that weren’t observing blackout rules.

“They had meetings at the house,” her son, James F. Hope Jr., said this week. “We would have training exercises in the basement and garage.”

One time, Hope made the mistake of telling her father that she would be flying over his neighborhood looking for homes not obeying the rules. That night, she spotted her father on the roof waving at her — and promptly dropped a bag of flour near his post.

The younger Virginia Hope used to ask her mother for flying lessons, and her mother would always tell her, “I have to find the right pilot for you,” she recalled this week. “I never did learn how to fly, but I became a SCUBA diver.”

Hope said her mother’s long legacy of service was ingrained in her.

“That’s what we grew up with,” Hope said. “You take care of your family; you take care of your animals. That’s what she instilled in us. There were a lot of people that nobody realized needed help, and she would help them.”

James F. Hope Sr. was mayor of Suffolk from 1965-1978 and 1990-1992. He died in 2012.

Virginia Hope’s funeral will take place Tuesday at 2 p.m. at Oxford United Methodist Church, with burial in Holly Lawn Cemetery.