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In Memory of . . . Virginia P. Knowles (1924-2011)

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Rev. Dr. Virginia Perin Knowles died on January 23, 2011 after a long decline. She was 87 years old.  Rev. Knowles was born in Washington, D.C., on January 10, 1924 to Bernard K. Perin and Virginia Protzman Perin. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1945 with a BA in Liberal Arts, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in 1948 with an MA in International Affairs, University of Chicago in 1976 with a Masters of Divinity and Meadville Lombard Theological School in 1979 with a Doctor of Ministry degree. She also studied at the Sorbonne and the University of Mexico during the 1940’s.

She served as the Director of Religious Education at Mt. Vernon Unitarian Church in Alexandria, VA and at Beverly Unitarian Church in Chicago, IL. Upon completion of her theological studies, she was called as minister to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Redwood City, CA. Following her time spent in Redwood City, she served as interim minister at both the Unitarian Universalist Church of Urbana Champaign in Urbana, IL and the First Unitarian Church of Louisville, KY. Rev. Knowles was next called to State College, PA where she served as minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County. Following this period, she served as interim minister at the First Universalist Church of Rochester in Rochester, NY, the Unitarian Church North in Mequon, WI, and finally at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church in Adelphi, MD until 1992 at which time she retired from full-time ministry. Following retirement she served as a consulting minister at the First Unitarian Church in Lynchburg, VA. She served on the governing boards of various denominational organizations over the years including the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, UU Collegium, and UU’s for Social Justice in the DC region.

Prior to her ministry, Rev. Knowles worked in Paris for the U.S. Foreign Service and was subsequently accepted, along with a small group of other women, into an exalted and predominantly male program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Upon completion, she was recruited by the newly organized CIA to work with refugees and ex-patriots from Eastern Europe. Her husband at the time, Ed Knowles, worked alongside her at the CIA. While stationed in Munich she gave birth to twins, one of whom was learning disabled as a result of a brain injury. The twins were soon followed by the birth of another child, Jeffrey. While her children were young, she began working as Director of Religious Education and Assistant to the Minister at the First Parish in Cambridge, MA. With money being scarce for the newly divorced mother of three, she took a more lucrative position with the Office (now Department) of Education as an international specialist. Eight years later with her children grown, and upon the advent of what she, and others, termed "women’s lib” she made the decision to rethink her life plans and enter the ministry, once again choosing a path that few women had traversed. Rev. Knowles, when writing in 1975 of her decision to enter the ministry, asked herself what in life gave her the most lasting satisfaction. Her answer follows: "Developing ideas which give some coherence to life in this galaxy, realizing again with companions of all ages that our work in a common cause can sometimes make a difference, discovering that I can inspire friends to try new ways or see some light through darkness, these are for me what make life worth living. Most fulfilling of all I find sharing with my fellows the awesome variety and depth of ways we cope with being human on this earth.”

Rev. Knowles is survived by her children Edward Christopher "Kit” Knowles and Katherine Perin Knowles of Tucson, AZ. Her youngest son, Jeffrey Knowles, died in 2007 at the age of 56.

A service to celebrate the life of Rev. Dr. Virginia P. Knowles was held on Sunday, March 6, at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church of Adelphi, MD where she was a member. Rev. Diane Teichert officiated at the memorial service.

Please send messages of condolence to family friend, Marge Owens, 119 Northway, Greenbelt, MD 20770.

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