Virginia Puller, general's widow, dies at age 97
BY ELLEN ROBERTSON
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Feb 8, 2006
Virginia Montague Evans of Saluda was 16 and Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller was 27 when they met at a cotillion in nearby West Point.
Puller, who would become the most-decorated Marine in the corps' history, was smitten, said their daughter, Virginia Dabney of Lexington.
"My father said that winning her hand was his hardest battle," Dabney said. For years, he'd go on Marine Corps assignments and return to Saluda to ask Virginia to marry him.
She finally said "yes" when she was 29 and he was 40 and a Marine captain.
They married in a military wedding on Nov. 13, 1937, at Christ Church, the Episcopal church in Christchurch where generations of her family had worshipped.
Mrs. Puller, who was widowed in 1971, died Saturday at her home in Saluda. She was 97.
A funeral will be held Saturday at 3 p.m. at Christ Church.
One of three children born to a lawyer's family, she grew up at Evanslea, a big house in Saluda that had 52 windows, said her daughter Martha Downs of Alexandria. She graduated in the early 1920s from St. Mary's School in Raleigh, N.C.
"She was everything he ever wanted. They were everything each other ever wanted," Dabney said. "They were absolutely devoted to each other. He sent her roses all the time and they wrote love letters."
Puller "did the Marine Corps. He thought it was the greatest thing and the best way to take care of us," Downs said. "Mother did everything else."
"She bought cars and houses and life insurance, and she did it beautifully. But she didn't want anyone to know she was doing those kinds of things. She wasn't sure it was ladylike. She wanted people to think Father was doing all that.
"She was a genteel Southern lady, but an iron lady," Downs said. "If you didn't have manners when you were coming in the house, you did when you left."
Mrs. Puller accompanied her husband on a tour of duty in China in 1940. She and her infant daughter, Virginia, left on the last American dependents' ship before the Japanese took Shanghai in 1941 during World War II, said Dabney.
She also followed him to Hawaii and across the U.S. mainland but returned to Saluda during his combat tours in World War II and the Korean War.
When he retired in 1955 as a lieutenant general, the couple settled in Saluda.
"She really loved the Marines," Dabney said. "She fed hundreds of them. She knew how much it meant to Father. He would bring Marines home off the street if he met them at a gas station."
She found Marine husbands for her daughters.
At Christmas, she would be "graciously serving a Southern lunch to sergeants at this end of the table and generals at that end," Downs said. "When my father would get tired, she would say, 'The general needs a nap.' "
Mrs. Puller loved history, historical restoration projects and going to old homes and plantations. She was a member of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.
A son, Lewis B. Puller Jr., died in 1994.
In addition to her daughters, survivors include seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Link to Story: General's wife laid to Rest