Jeanne Tracy Eichelberger died Feb. 11

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Jeanne Tracy Eichelberger died on Feb. 11, at home surrounded by her family, after a long illness.

Jeanne’s long and rich life was framed by a love of books and music, a gentle appreciation for people, and a devotion to church and community. She had a keen intellect, an unfailing sense of humor, a generous heart, and a strong sense of justice.

The oldest child of a military family, she was born in 1938 in Honolulu, Hawaii, where her father was stationed at Fort DeRussy. They came to Lexington shortly after World War II, and Jeanne began studying classical music under renowned pianist Mary Tucker at an early age; sang in the choir of then R.E. Lee Memorial Church from the age of 11; and started a lifelong career involving libraries at age 16, when she held a summer job on the Rockbridge-Botetourt bookmobile – at the time, a school bus outfitted to take reading materials to households along the highways and byways of the two counties.

After graduating from the College of William & Mary with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1960 and spending a year in Germany on a Fulbright scholarship, Jeanne went on to work, variously, at the Johns Hopkins Library; the Washington and Lee Library; the Aberdeen University Library in Aberdeen, Scotland; the Cleveland Art Museum in Cleveland, Ohio; the SUNY-Binghamton Library in Binghamton, N.Y., where she served as head of Special Collections after earning a master’s degree in library science; and finally, shortly before retiring, as a reference librarian in the Rockbridge Regional Library system.

Jeanne also held a M.A. in Slavic languages from Indiana University, and her gift for languages led to some memorable adventures abroad: She traveled in the 1960s – at the height of the Cold War – on an NDEA-sponsored six-month group study trip through Russia. Her parents were convinced she would end up in Siberia, but she returned safely with a number of insights about Soviet culture. She recalled that in one remote hamlet, the villagers at first refused to believe these young people were Americans, then begged to know whether there were still churches in America. She crossed over into East Berlin in 1961 to see the sights there just weeks before the Berlin Wall went up. And she was in Prague in 1968 on a summer study program that was disrupted when Russian tanks suddenly swept into the Czech capital.

But it was in her hometown of Lexington that she met and married the love of her life, Henry Herring Eichelberger. They married in 1977, and she moved with her son, David, to join Henry in Scotland, where she and Henry worked at Aberdeen University and the family lived in an old fishing village outside of Aberdeen, overlooking the North Sea.

It was while in Scotland that Jeanne – whose maiden middle name was Gordon – vowed that someday she would apply her music skills to Scotland’s traditional instrument, the pipes. She made good on the vow after some years when the family arrived in Binghamton, N.Y., where she and Henry soon joined first one and then several pipe bands. Together they became charter members of the Broome County band in Binghamton – Jeanne on the Highland or war pipes, Henry on snare and tenor drums -- and then joined the Mohawk Valley Frasiers in Rome, N.Y.; the Syracuse pipe band; and, after returning to retire in Rockbridge County, the Shenandoah Valley pipes in Staunton.

Together they marched for a number of years with the Broome County pipes in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade – the largest in the country – and marched and competed with the Mohawk Frasiers up and down the East Coast. Jeanne honed her skills to compete solo playing pibroch, the most difficult pipe music.

Jeanne also played organ, guitar, Celtic harp, and the Border or small pipes, and mastered seven languages in her lifetime.

She loved gardening, and while still in Binghamton, commuted weekly to Lexington for most of a year to become a Master Gardener. She was a regular lay reader at Grace Episcopal Church and helped with the church archives. She volunteered for the Rockbridge Area Relief Association’s help line and for Rockbridge Area Hospice, and loved working with the staffs of both organizations. She enjoyed attending the Community Table with friends, taking drives on the county’s back roads, swimming and picnicking in Goshen Pass, cooking and dining with family and friends, and hanging out with the family’s felines.

She is survived by husband Henry; son David Maxwell Richards (Colleen); grandson Gabriel Alan Staton; sister Lisa Tracy; and a fond clan of nephews, nieces, cousins and friends.

Donations in her memory may be made to RARA, to Rockbridge Area Hospice, or to Grace Episcopal Church’s organ fund.

A memorial celebration of her life will be held later in the year. She is much missed.

 

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