Victoria Ann McManus
How to distill the essence of Victoria into mere words, a few short paragraphs? Where to begin? Born in late September she seemed to combine the elements of fall; embodying the promise of an early autumn day when the weather conjures the warmth of summer days recently passed, mixed with hints of the cold winter about to descend and envelop us.
From the moment she first entered this world her parents knew she was special. On the way home from the hospital at just a few days old, her eyes intently studied the interior of the car, seeming to soak up information as she skeptically questioned where fate had landed her. Peter, her father, always said he felt she was wondering “Who are these people and why am I with them?” The inquisitive look on her beautiful countenance foreshadowed the familiar furrow of her young woman’s brow as her powerful mind wrestled with profound and complex thoughts as she sought to synthesize disparate, complicated concepts.
She was cautious: an observer who thought long and hard before acting. Late to take her first steps at fifteen months, she was fully capable of running from that very first, very steady step. In her teen-aged years, this characteristic was often mistaken by others as aloofness but those who were not put off by it soon learned what a delightful, funny, warm, and sensitive person lurked beneath the quizzical expression, and grew to cherish each moment she spent with them.
Victoria craved solitude. It allowed her to think, yet she was neither loner nor recluse. She cared deeply about her friends and was fiercely loyal. She missed them, her pain palpable as she ached to be among them once they scattered near and far. This sense of connectedness and the loss one has to bear when separated by miles she learned from the eclectic enclave created by the incredible friendships she made while at Emory University. She loved the mini-reunion they had just one year before her sudden death. She giggled with joy when she recounted their escapades as they traipsed through Atlanta wearing the loose fitting brightly colored pajama-like cotton pants one of them, Jim, had brought from India.
A gifted student and intellectual, she was a talented writer and artist who delighted her friends worldwide with her ideas and creations. Her wry sense of humor and keen observation of life were appreciated by all who knew her. She had an unparalleled sense of adventure and loved to explore archives, architecture, and nature with equal zeal. Green was her lifelong favorite color, and it was also the color of her eyes. There was nothing more powerful than looking into the depths of those eyes, whether engaged in intellectual discourse or as the recipient of one of her “you’ve got to be kidding me” stares.
She loved to draw, paint, and color and did not hesitate to use any surface as her canvas. Her creativity was also nourished by a love of movies. Her mother was fortunate to witness the precise moment she grasped the full artistic power of great filmmaking. One afternoon they went to a local independent theater to see Traffic. As the movie unfolded her mother became concerned about how her then-13-year-old would react to the very disturbing and adult subjects graphically portrayed. Once they stepped out into the night air and stood in the streetlights, Victoria turned to her mother and said “So, this is what movies can be, mom?” From that day forward she was an ardent and discriminating movie-goer.
She grew into a brave and fiercely independent woman. Famous for insisting on walking everywhere in her trademark Converse sneakers, she left miles of footprints in any city where she lived or visited, soaking in a joyous solitude from city streets. Apart from a few articles of clothing and Converse sneakers, her only material possessions were books. She loved words. In distinctive handwriting, she wrote quotes that caught her interest with walls and door frames being her preferred tablet. A voracious reader, nothing made her happier than to crawl into bed, curl up, and read. Her favorite book was Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. This book fueled the innate sense of injustice that led to her passion for history and desire to right societal wrongs.
She passionately believed in making this world a better place as demonstrated by her spending a year teaching some of this country’s most neglected high school children in rural Louisiana. Upon moving to Chicago she continued to tutor and work with school-aged children. At the time of her unexpected death in May of 2014, she had recently accepted admission to the Masters in Public History program at Loyola University, Chicago, where her powerful mind was prepared to flower. In her words, “the program seems to have been designed to teach me exactly what I want to use history for.”
Everything about Victoria was authentic. She had no pretensions, was genuine, and true to herself and everyone around her. All who met her were touched by her kindness, bravery, and independence of spirit. She loved her family and friends as deeply as they loved her. She was gentle and generous, an ideal oldest daughter and big sister. She loved her sisters fiercely, tenderly, and devotedly. She had the sensitivity to understand the nuances of her friends’ and families’ distinct personalities and the gentleness to embrace their limitations without judgment. The significance with which she lived her life and the joy she brought to those who knew her will be treasured for as long as they live.
Finding One's Voice was founded on what would have been Victoria's 27th birthday to honor the life of this rare and wonderful being.