Virgie Louise McNeal of West Caldwell, formerly of Montclair, died peacefully on Sept. 1, 2021, with her daughter-in-law, Glenda, at her side. She was 96.

Mrs. McNeal was born in 1925, the younger of two sisters, to Jesse and James Foreman in Princeton, Kentucky.  

She graduated from Sumner High School in St. Louis and took courses at the University of St. Louis School of Adult Education. She went to work for Stix, Bear & Fuller department store as an elevator operator and, after a few years, moved to San Francisco.

After living for a short while in San Francisco, she moved back to St. Louis, where she met her husband-to-be, Theodore David McNeal, the first black state senator in Missouri. She and “Ted” were married in 1950 and, three years later, welcomed their only child, Philip Webster.

Always committed to family first, Mrs. McNeal relished the opportunity to stay home to care for Philip and to support her husband’s career as a union organizer, employment opportunity and civil rights activist, and state legislator. 

She delighted in being a mother and wife. She was an extraordinary woman — caring, graceful, elegant and devoted to her family and friends. She lived boldly and authentically, exemplifying a high standard that inspired those around her, of every generation. 

Her interests were as wide as her life was long, and she was as wise as she was beautiful. She was passionate about traveling and exploring new cultures and the arts, especially music, theater and opera. She was an avid reader and loved engaging in intellectual exchanges that challenged traditional perspectives, even her own.

Once her son was off to college, Mrs. McNeal went to work for the Globe Democrat in St. Louis. When her husband died in 1982, they had been married 32 years. She found comfort in regular visits to the St. Louis Botanical Garden — so much so that she was later offered a job there, where she greeted guests and made lifelong friends.

In 1996, at the age of 71, she left her home of more than 40 years to live near her son, his wife, Glenda, and their children, Sydney and Carter, in Montclair. She would revel in her new life there, close to the family she adored. Her loving, supportive presence was a great blessing and she became integral to their family life. Nothing brought her more joy than being with her grandchildren and talking about her family to anyone who would listen.

At age 91, three years after the untimely death of her son, Mrs. McNeal moved to the Crane’s Mill community in West Caldwell. She soon also found her spiritual home at Brookdale Christian Church. Remarkably active, intellectually curious and charming, she encouraged those around her and continued to have a rich social life.

She enjoyed life and lived it her way. She was a lady and a feminist who exemplified both a more genteel time as well as an impressive fortitude uncommon in any time. She was a true steel magnolia.

Mrs. McNeal is survived by her daughter-in-law, Glenda; her grandchildren, Sydney and Carter; her niece, Greta Holmes; her great-niece, Jeanine Holmes, and a host of extended family members and friends. 

She was predeceased by her parents; her husband, Ted; her son, Philip, and her sister, Mildred. 

A memorial service is being planned for Saturday, Nov. 27, at 10 a.m. at Brookdale Christian Church, 1350 Broad St., Bloomfield. In lieu of flowers, please contribute to the Philip McNeal Leadership Fund at Montclair Kimberley Academy.

Arrangements were by Hugh M. Moriarty Funeral Home.