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Virginia Garrett (1920-2012)

Virginia Garrett, 91 years old, loving family member, distinguished map collector and philanthropist, died on April 21, 2012, in Fort Worth.

Born Virginia Williams on November 26, 1920, in Fort Worth, the middle child of three of Bertha K. and John Edward Williams, Virginia attended Fort Worth schools, graduating from North Side High School in 1937. From high school, Virginia went on to comptometer training at Burroughs Training School. From 1938-1941, she worked in the Auditing Department of Continental Oil Company in downtown Fort Worth.

A lifelong member of Rosen Heights Baptist Church, she met and fell in love with Jess Jenkins Garrett, the minister’s son. They were married by Jenkins’s father on her birthday in San Francisco in 1941. At the time, Jenkins was a young attorney working for the FBI on the West Coast. They lived in California until 1943, when they returned to Fort Worth, where her time was increasingly occupied caring for a growing family, which included a daughter, Dianne, born in 1943, another daughter Donna, born in 1945, and a son, Jenkins, Jr., born in 1947.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Jenkins became an inveterate collector of all things Texas, including books, manuscripts, newspapers, sheet music, broadsides, and materials in other formats. The Garretts began traveling across the country and later around the world to satisfy his collecting interests. While they were frequenting bookstores to satisfy his passion for Texana, Virginia began looking at maps and other cartographic material that piqued her interest.

From childhood, she recalled her father giving her road maps to look at to occupy her time as the family drove from Fort Worth to see her grandparents in Marlin, Texas, near Waco. She was captivated by these maps, later admitting that “maps were like puzzles to me. I was mightily impressed that someone, somewhere, had calculated how far it was from one town to the next and was able to display this graphically.”

Virginia’s interests, her husband’s collecting, and their travels quickly infected her with the “collecting bug” too. At first she was drawn to maps that depicted Texas, remembering that her first map purchase was made some 50 years ago in a small bookstore on Paris’s Left Bank. Later she focused her collecting to include maps depicting the land that would become Texas (as opposed to Texas as a political unit) and the Gulf of Mexico. Over several decades, she amassed a collection that included 375 atlases and 900 maps, dating from the 1500s until 1900, reported to be one of the largest collections of its type in private hands.

Not only were the Garretts zealous collectors, but they were also generous and selfless benefactors and donors. In 1974 they donated Jenkins’s much loved Texas collection to the University of Texas at Arlington, where it became the centerpiece of the library’s Special Collections. In 1990 they donated Virginia’s atlas collection, and in 1997 her map collection to Special Collections, making it a research center for those interested in studying the rich history of Texas and the Gulf of Mexico region. Today the Jenkins Garrett Library and the Virginia Garrett Cartographic History Library make up two important parts of Special Collections.

These transformational donations have allowed UT Arlington to build on these gifts by adding undergraduate and graduate classes in the history of cartography, discovery, and exploration; creating the Center for Greater Southwestern Studies; starting a Ph.D. program in Trans-Atlantic History; and sponsoring the biennial Virginia Garrett Lectures on the History of Cartography.

The Garretts have received numerous honors for their generosity, including the Philanthropic Award from the Texas Library Association, 1991; Willaim E. Jary, Jr., Award, presented by the Tarrant County Historical  Commission, 1991; American History Medal of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, 1994; Sir Thomas More Medal of the University of San Francisco’s Gleeson Library, 1998; Award of Excellence in Preserving History sponsored by the Texas Historical Commission, 2003; Fellows of the Society for the History of Discoveries, 2003; and Honorees of the Historic Fort Worth, Inc., Charity Antiques Show, 2008.

Virginia Garrett’s interests were not limited to maps. She was an active club and church woman in Fort Worth, including being a member of the Fort Worth Delta Gamma  TCU Alumnae Chapter, Fort Worth Woman’s Club (Monday Book Club and Friday Lecture Club), Women of Rotary, Tarrant County Historical Society, Faith Class at Rosen Heights Baptist Church, and was on the Board of Directors of the Scott Theater. She was a founding member of the Texas Map Society and the driving force for its creation and a longtime member of the Texas State Historical Association and the Friends of the UT Arlington Library, among other organizations.

Garrett was preceded in death by her parents, John and Bertha Williams; her brother, John Williams, Jr.; and her husband, Jenkins Garrett.

Survivors: Children, Dianne Powell and her husband Boone, Donna Garrett, and Jenkins Garrett, Jr., and wife, Marcia; grandchildren, Vanessa Vaughan, Holt Vaughan, Sarah Petty, Kate Garrett, Laura Powell and Leilah Powell; and five grandchildren.

Visitation: Saturday, 1:00-3:00pm, Thompson’s Harveson and Cole Funeral Home, 702 8th Ave., Fort Worth, 76104; Funeral Service, 2:00pm, Rosen Heights Baptist Church, 2524 Roosevelt Ave., Fort Worth 76164.
Donations in Lieu of Flowers may be made to the Virginia and Jenkins Garrett Cartographic Endowment, UT Arlington, Campus Box 19198, Arlington, TX 76019.      

Gerald D. Saxon