Obituary of Virginia Lee Bedford
Virginia Lee Bedford, a pioneer and leader in integrated education, Transcendental Meditation, legal technology, neighborhood development, and music, passed away peacefully on Thursday, June 8, 2023, after a lengthy illness, at the age of 77.
Born in Columbia, South Carolina on December 31, 1945, she was the daughter of William W. (Bill) Bedford and Jamie Lee Bedford. She was married to Fred Monk, retired business editor of The State Newspaper in Columbia.
She grew up in northwest Alabama, graduating from Hamilton High School where she was the drum majorette. She played the organ for her church in Hamilton and, also, played piano and trombone. During her senior year, she entered the Alabama State Piano competition for high school students in Birmingham and received the highest possible rating of “Excellent” for playing Beethoven's “Sonata Pathétique, No. 8” from memory. During this time, she spent her summers in Columbia where she was a member of the prominent Tapp’s Department Store family.
Virginia attended and graduated from Judson College in Marion, Alabama, where she witnessed the 1965 Selma March which forged her strong beliefs in equality and civil rights. She received her master’s degree from Auburn University and was one of the first teachers at an integrated public school, Raines High School in Jacksonville, Florida. She went on to teach at Phenix City, Alabama and then in Columbus, Georgia. Later, she worked as a representative for a bank that inaugurated BankAmericard, now Visa.
She was passionate about Transcendental Meditation (TM) and studied under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Switzerland. Later, continuing her spiritual education, she studied under Sathya Sai Baba in an ashram in Bangalore, India. She started the first TM center in Columbia, where she taught the practice of meditation to a new generation of young and older followers in the 1970s.
In the early 1980s, Virginia studied law and received her Juris Doctor degree from Samford University in Birmingham. She returned to Columbia, SC practicing real estate law in both Columbia and Charleston, before turning her attention to legal technology. She founded her company, Legal Software, which produced the first digitized program of the South Carolina Code of Laws and other legal forms, as well as the first Compact Disc press in South Carolina. Working initially out of the law office of prominent Columbia attorney Kermit King, she transformed law offices across South Carolina and surrounding states. She sold her company to WestLaw Publishing in the mid-1990s.
Virginia was an urban pioneer. Settling in Columbia’s downtown neighborhood of Earlewood in 1977, which by then had been heavily affected by flight to the suburbs. She was one of the leaders to establish the Earlewood Community Citizens Organization (ECCO) and was a leading force in changing blighted areas of the neighborhood into the thriving community it is today.
As a board member and president of ECCO, she focused on safety and policing measures, ran out drug trafficking, helped establish building and renovation standards, community signage and recognition. After selling her company, she completely restored a condemned 1910s-era house that became a showcase for Earlewood.
Virginia was responsible for establishing a neighborhood watch program, got neighbors to meet neighbors—first through block parties and then through the first neighborhood “porch parties”—in Columbia and oversaw Earlewood’s Yard of the Month program. She created the Bungalow Fest to celebrate Earlewood’s 100th anniversary in 2010, with a tour of Craftsmen-style homes and gardens and a history of their development, spotlighting Earlewood as an historic and progressive neighborhood.
She also helped transform Earlewood Park, one Columbia’s largest parks, as well as the North Main corridor. She played a leading role in ensuring a new community center was built, which also led to the city establishing a new Parks and Recreation administration building at Earlewood Park. Virginia was responsible for the renovation of the park’s amphitheater, its seating, and trees; a grant to create a mile-long nature trail, the popular dog park, a new children’s playground, a community festival called Earle Jam and a neighborhood fundraiser called the Big Flea, an annual neighborhood garage sale.
Virginia was a pioneer in bringing the neighborhoods of Earlewood, Elmwood and Cottontown together to promote the North Main Street corridor and was responsible for rebranding the districts as NoMa, a moniker widely used today. She created the area’s first community garden on the vacant space along River Drive. She was also a leading force in preventing the Columbia bus maintenance facility and headquarters from locating on Sunset Drive, instead having it located at Lucius Road and River Drive, where it is now expanding.
She was steadfast in pressing city officials to move forward with languishing federal funding to be used for the streetscape between Elmwood and Sunset which later opened the corridor to new economic development.
She was a former director and treasurer of the Columbia Parks and Recreation Foundation. She was a retired member of the South Carolina Bar Association and numerous other non-profit and professional organizations over the years.
Virginia was passionate about music. After meeting her soon-to-be husband, Fred, they co-founded the 3 Rivers Music Festival in 1999. She was executive director of the festival, bringing in more than 700 national, regional, and local acts to seven stages in downtown Columbia attracting visitors from all 50 states and more than a dozen countries and territories from 2000 to 2006. Later, she helped promote musicians in New Orleans, where she had a part-time residence.
After retiring, she and her husband spent time with family and friends at their mountain home in Sherwood Forest between Brevard, NC and Caesar’s Head, SC.
She was a master gardener. Equally passionate about gardening as she was about music and community development. Her backyard in Columbia was a mesmerizing miniature botanical garden.
A highly principled person, Virginia entered many people’s lives when she saw they needed help and support—and freely offered her advice. She cared deeply about and always strived to help those in the communities around her to live their best lives. She was also a devoted dog owner and lover of animals.
Virginia is survived by her husband, Fred of Columbia; her stepsons, Christopher Monk of Portland, Oregon, and Dickson Monk, his wife Jill Brooks, and their daughter Ava Rodgers of Columbia; her brother, John Bedford of Auburn, Alabama and New Orleans; first cousins Marg Mills of Charleston, Susan and Al Brothers of Raleigh North Carolina, and Hi Roberson of Columbia, John Lawson Bedford of Birmingham, Roger H. Bedford, Jr. of Tuscaloosa; and her stepsister Kaye Benson Botes of Birmingham; and her cocker spaniel, Augie.
A celebration of Virginia’s life will be held later this summer. For those who wish, a donation in her memory can be made to Pawmetto Lifeline (1275 Bower Parkway, Columbia, SC 29212), a nonprofit organization devoted to saving the lives of homeless dogs and cats in Columbia.
South Carolina Cremation Society is assisting the family. Family and friends may sign the online guest book by clicking on the “Tribute Wall” tab above.
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