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Brave Engagement

A mother's imprint on Richmond.

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One fall evening in 1946, a newly married Richmond wife donned her white gloves and went to her first event at the Woman's Club. Surveying the room, she happened to overhear two Richmond grande dames commiserating over the madness of history.

“You know, dear,” said one, “this war has been a tragedy.”

“I know exactly what you mean, dear,” her companion said. “So many of our young men have married out of town.”

That young woman, just entering Richmond society from a career in Washington, D.C., died last week at the age of 86, a Richmond grande dame in her own right, known to Style Weekly readers as Rosie Right. She had adapted happily to her adopted city — but always retained that faint scent of out-of-town. She was my mother, Rozanne Epps, who lived a life that combined the seemingly timeless mores of Richmond's West End with a brave engagement with the history of the last half-century. 

She trailed a faintly raffish past — Florida-born, she came from a line that included writers, dancers, actors, artists and agitators. She vividly remembered the dragon-haunted KKK-era Deep South where she grew up. She had done top-secret war work for the Navy Department (though, she always carefully said, only in a clerical capacity). After the war she had begun a career as a journalist.

She married A.C. Epps, the quintessential in-towner, and stayed in town through the revolutions of civil rights and feminism. She not only survived those changes but also embraced them. During the 1960s, she returned to the work force and began her two decades as an educator. I have met many women who remember her Virginia Commonwealth University course, Focus on Choice for Women, as a turning point in their lives.

And in the end she returned to the first career she had loved, becoming in her seventh decade of life a journalist again for more than 20 years. 

Her countless friends — some of whom only read her astringent observations on grammar and usage in the Rosie Right column — salute one of the quiet makers of today's  Richmond, freer and happier than the city she moved to in 1946. The one shadow on her passing is that she didn't remain aware long enough to know that Barack Obama had won the presidential election — something she had worked and prayed for. She looked eagerly forward to that great getting-up morning; but on its eve, she laid her burden down, having carried it with grace and charity through Depression, war, the long struggle for Southern freedom and the revolution in the lives of women, young and old.

Now she rests next to the man she adored for 60 years, never out of town again. S

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