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New Jersey author and educator, Virginia Lee Randall Masterman-Smith MA, passed away suddenly and peacefully in her sleep on October 27, 2023. She was 85 years old. Stroke was the suspected cause. She was generally happy and healthy in later years but had been experiencing progressive memory loss, muscle weakness and lethargy from a hyperthyroid condition.
Virginia was born on November 18, 1937, in New York City, NY and grew up in the Jersey shore city of Long Branch, NJ. She was a graduate of Star of the Sea Academy, Red Bank Catholic High School, where she was on the Yearbook staff and a varsity cheerleader. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Literature from Georgian Court College (now University) and later received a master's degree in special education from Monmouth College (now University) in 1989.
In 1965 she briefly served as a typist at the prestigious U.S. Army Signal Corps headquarters at Fort Monmouth, NJ. Though experience as a typist honed the skill set she would rely on for success in the competitive book market, in 1966, she resigned to focus on teaching and writing. There she met the love of her life, U.S. Army satellite pioneer Kenneth Masterman-Smith. Kenneth fell in love on their first date. She was not so sure. They two persisted and were married in 1967. They had two children and lived in Eatontown, NJ then moved to West Long Branch, NJ, where they lived until 1985.
In 1976 she attracted the attention of the distinguished literary agency of New York City-based McIntosh & Otis, who represented her through The Treasure Trap/The Haunted Mansion Mystery (1979), The Great Egyptian Heist (1982) and First Mate Tate (2000). The Haunted Mansion Mystery became a 2-part seasoner opener for the popular ABC Weekend Specials series. At the age of 80 she submitted her 4th novel to the agency, the Civil War era historical fiction, Elysia’s War. She had several more novels in the queue at the time of her passing.
Virginia loved working with young minds and was a passionate educator and innovator in the classroom. She developed a new type of reading program for learning disabled and emotionally disturbed children who could not read. In a six-decade teaching career, she taught 4th-12th grade English, Literature and Special Education in Jersey shore districts including West Long Branch, Long Branch and Jefferson County in northwest New Jersey. She was a Governor’s Fellow of the AT&T Teacher’s & Technology Institute in 1993 under then NJ Gov. Jim Florio. She is a past President of the West Long Branch PTA; provided creative writing workshops for school-age children at school libraries across the state; and was a tutor for in-patient pediatric patients in Long Branch’s Monmouth Medical Center and pediatric cancer patients in Toms River.
Virginia was diplomatic but demanding in her advocacy for things she cared about. She worked with the Humane Society to pursue federal legislation to limit trapping in residential areas. She gave jarring testimony to a Congressional subcommittee at the U.S. Capitol about the family dog, Banjo, being ensnared in and losing a leg from a steel trap in woods near her young family’s home. During that testimony she held her own in an intense sparring match with the late Ted Stevens, U.S. Senator from Alaska.
Virginia’s novels and manuscripts centered around female protagonists. Her biggest success, The Treasure Trap (Four Winds Press/Scholastic) was retitled The Haunted Mansion Mystery in soft cover and entertained audiences in the U.S., Great Britain and was translated into German and Chinese. A young Christian Slater played the character Billy Beak in one of his earliest acting roles in The Haunted Mansion Mystery, which aired as part of the ABC Weekend Specials and ABC After School Mystery Theater. After turning down a nominal take-it-or-leave-it offer by ABC for her characters, she wrote the sequel, The Great Egyptian Heist.
In the 1990s, her writing shifted to more complex, provocative and mature themes. The Tycoon was her 1st submission to MacIntosh & Otis in 1976. After multiple rewrites and title changes it was published as First Mate Tate in 2000 (Marshall Cavendish). The dark satire, drawing on her personal experiences in her youth with father a compulsive gambler, centers around a young female protagonist preventing the loss of family’s house and marina business due to parents’ gambling problems.
As a reporter for the Red Bank Register, Virginia found a creative partner in Bayshore, NJ area pianist Barbara DeAngelis where the two teamed to write and co-produce the historical musical drama “Our Life”, which chronicled an American family through the 20th century. In 1982 “Our Life” premiered at Monmouth University’s Guggenheim Theater. This led the duo to showcase their play in New York City in pursuit of Broadway backing.
In 1985, she became Director of Public Relations for the West End Cultural Center on Brighton Ave in Long Branch and founded the start-up company Photo Trax with Kenneth. Photo Trax was one of the first companies to successfully convert home movies to videotape without flicker or image degradation at the dawn of the VCR era.
Her husband, after serving seven U.S. Presidents, as the one of the U.S. Army’s top satellite communications experts did not make it through the eighth’s policies to cull large portions of the federal workforce. Virginia and Kenneth’s worlds crumbled, and Kenneth’s mental health deteriorated. They divorced in 1985 but remained in each other’s life until his passing in 1997. She was remarried to Thomas Quirk in 1993 and divorced in 1999. She found love in later years in Lyman Daly. Towards the end of her life Virginia renewed her love for Kenneth and requested to be interred with him for eternity.
Virginia was on a lifelong spiritual journey which took her from devout Catholic in her younger years where she wanted to be a nun. She found Nichiren Buddhism in the 1990s and chanted daily at her Butsudan shrine for enlightenment and world peace until her final months.
Among the hobbies and interests she had were summers at the beach on the Jersey shore; NY Giants football; NY Yankees baseball; needlepoint; running; swimming; and softball. Upon her retirement from teaching, in 2013 she moved to Vidalia, Georgia to be closer with her family and her grandchildren, Cody and Cole and attended their games, plays, events, holidays and birthdays. In Georgia, she continued her writing and became a fierce Words with Friends player.
She is predeceased by sister, Doris Eaton and nephew Brian Eaton. Survivors include brother Jack LoPinto of Toronto, Canada; sisters Kathy Vignolini of Long Branch, New Jersey and Michele Schmuch of La Habra, California; son Dr. Michael Masterman-Smith of Marina del Rey, California, Consulting Portfolio Executive for the United States National Institutes of Health; and son Stephen and daughter-in-law Dr. Caryn Janzer Masterman-Smith of Memorial Meadows Health Physicians – Children’s Care; and grandsons Cody and Cole Masterman-Smith of Vidalia, Georgia.
The family requests, in lieu of flowers, a donation in her memory be made to charities she supported: Covenant House; Humane Society; SGI-USA (Nichiren Buddhism); St. Joseph’s Indian School; St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital; Shriners Hospitals; USMC Toys for Tots; and Wounded Warriors.
A private Interment for family and close friends is scheduled for Friday, November 10, 2023, at 2p at Woodbridge Memorial Gardens in Woodbridge, NJ. A Celebration of Life for family and friends is scheduled for Saturday, November 11, 2023, from 1p-4p at The Branches at 123 Monmouth Road, West Long Branch, NJ 07764.