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Virginia Tinsley of Coram, first woman in local Rotary club, dies at 85

Virginia Tinsley, a former nurse’s aide who started assisted-care living facilities and was the first woman admitted to her local Rotary Club, dedicated her life to serving others.

“She would help you if you helped yourself,” Tinsley’s granddaughter Jeannine Tinsley said. “She’s always reached her hand out to people.”

Tinsley, 85, died on Friday at her home in Coram.

Tinsley started the Ridge Rest Home, an assisted-care living facility, in Ridge in 1958 with the help of a co-worker from John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson, where she worked as a nurse’s aide.

With the help of her best friend, Cornelia Scott, Tinsley went on to open another home in Riverhead, as well as a deli in Gordon Heights.

In 1987, she was the first woman admitted to the Middle Island Rotary Club, and in 1991 became the first female president of the group.

Service and faith were equally important to Tinsley. She was an active member of Christ Baptist Church in Coram for more than 40 years and served as a mentor to young women in the church, said Julia Belnavis, deaconess and Christ Church secretary.

“She was a kind woman; she was always encouraging and she certainly loved her church family,” Belnavis said.

The care Tinsley gave to the community around her mirrored the care she gave her family.

“She made sure all of her grandchildren were taken care of; we never wanted for anything,” Jeannine said. She recalled a time her grandmother took her to have her first professional photo taken in the ‘70s, and Christmases filled with new toys.

Virgie, as she was known to family, was born Virginia Elizabeth Saunders in Chesterfield, Virginia, on April 16, 1934, to Margaret Lee, who soon moved Tinsley and her three brothers to New York. Her first job was picking potatoes on a farm in Mount Sinai as a child.

Tinsley married Walter Irving Tinsley in 1951, with whom she had two children, Walter Irving Jr. and Thomas Edward.

In addition to her son Walter Irving Jr. and granddaughter Jeannine, Tinsley is survived by her brothers, Richard and Herbert Lee; grandchildren, Thomas, Walter III, Latasha, Marissa, Charles, Jason, Eric and Benjamin Tinsley; 14 great-grandchildren; two great-great grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews, including April Lee, who cared for Tinsley in her later years.

Tinsley is preceded in death by her husband, Walter Irving Tinsley; son, Thomas Tinsley; and brothers, Steven and Roosevelt Lee.

A wake will be held at Christ Baptist Church in Coram from 2 to 4 and from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday. The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the church.

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