A Life Remembered

February 27, 2005|BY MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail will run "A Life Remembered." The story will take a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Virginia Beatrice "Bea" Bean, who died Feb. 21 at the age of 90. Her obituary appeared in the Feb. 22 editions of The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail.

Born on a Saturday, Virginia Beatrice "Bea" Bean embodied the old nursery rhyme that says "Saturday's child works hard for a living."

"She worked very long hours on very high heels," said her only daughter, Roberta Lee Shirk, remembering her mother's years of working as manager and fashion consultant at Haber's - an upscale dress shop in Hagerstown from which she retired in the 1970s.

Virginia Bean died Feb. 21 at the age of 90.

As family members gathered from as far away as Mexico, they spoke of Bea's wide circle of friends and clients, many of whom also were friends. Her grandchildren said they were amazed at how many people would come up to her, say "Hi, Bea" and talk about how they had bought clothes from her over the years.


Roberta described her mother's years as a fashion consultant, not only at Haber's, but at several other prestigious dress shops in the area. Her attention to detail and her fashion sense made her very popular with the well-dressed women in the area.

She said her mother's talent was remembering what her clients liked and making sure she ordered with those customers in mind.

"Haber's also catered to a lot of clientele from Fort Ritchie, and my mother made sure she always had the styles they wanted in the shop," Roberta said.

Bea hosted fashion shows at local hotels and ballrooms aimed at the stylish women of Hagerstown and surrounding areas. Granddaughter Dawn Weaver recalled one show where as a child, she made an impromptu appearance on the runway, wearing the outfit she had on.

"I felt compelled to get up there and model my dress," Dawn said. And her grandmother apparently enjoyed the experience as much as Dawn did.

It was that sense of fun that the grandchildren are keeping alive in their own families, having learned the joy of such behavior at an early age from their grandmother.

"When I was 8 or 9 years old, my grandmother drove a 1964 Malibu, which was a muscle car then," said grandson Bryan Shirk, who now lives and works in Mexico. "When we came up the National Pike in that car, she would say she had to 'blow out the engine' and I would just love it."

Bryan also remembers his grandmother working crossword puzzles, but only by daylight. When she lost the natural light, she would put it down until the next day.

"We used to listen to Perry Como music together when I was young," Bryan said. Now, whenever he hears Perry Como, Bryan said he will think of her.

Dawn and her sister, Julie Shirk, nearly said the same thing at the same time when asked what memory will live on the strongest for them - their grandmother frying chicken in an old iron skillet.

Another granddaughter, Robin Sword, chimed in that it was a miracle that her fried chicken turned out since all of the grandchildren used to gather around Bea when she was cooking, and play flutes.

"We had a lot of fun growing up," Robin said. "And our grandmother had a lot to do with that."

Smiling, Julie said when she thinks about visiting her grandmother at Haber's, she only remembers one thing - sugar cubes.

"She had a cart with coffee, cream and sugar cubes for her customers," Julie said. "We grandkids would sneak the sugar cubes and eat them."

When she got older, Robin was working in downtown Hagerstown, so she began a routine of going to her grandmother's house for lunch on a regular basis. Keeping up those encounters through the years, they always were special times for Robin and she said she will miss them most of all.

"I'm going to miss her gashouse eggs," Dawn said. Bea would take the center out of a piece of bread, butter it on both sides, fry it up in a skillet and then cook an egg in the middle of it.

Always very fashion-conscious in her own wardrobe and style, Bea was known to all for her ultra high-heeled shoes, her upswept hairstyle and distinctive costume jewelry.

That famous jewelry collection was kept in a box that was roughly the size of a hope chest. The grandchildren thought they were the first to play games with Bea's jewelry, but that wasn't the case.

Thinking back to her own childhood, Roberta described herself as very shy.

"But when I dressed up in my mom's jewelry, I didn't feel shy anymore," Roberta said.

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