Monday 20 November 2023

Virginia McKibben Nail

    One of the things that has always surprised me about living in a tiny, very isolated, rural village is discovering some of the remarkable people that also live here.  Back in 1977 when we first moved into our house in McBride, we met a tall, elderly woman walking beside our property line, to her garden on her 40 acre mostly treed property situated adjacent to ours.  She was our neighbor, and introduced herself as Virginia McKibben Nail.  She came across as being a very “Proper” society-type woman, who seemed rather misplaced, living in the wilds of the Robson Valley.

    She immediately dominated the conversation, dropping names, and putting on airs.  When I told her my name, she asked, “Of the Smith Corona Marchants?” (the manufacturers of typewriters).  I watched her face as my status fell, when I assured her that I wasn’t.  Mrs. Nail had grown up in a prominent family in Pittsburgh, and was very proud of her family’s status.  While I wasn’t at all impressed with the status of her ancestors, I must say, I was impressed when I learned of the work she had done during her working years.

    From 1934-1954, she worked with Harlow Shapley, famous astronomer and Head of the Harvard Observatory.  Her name is along side Shapley’s in many groundbreaking published astronomical papers, many of which can be googled on the internet.  They did calculations about the size of the Milky Way Galaxy and studies of the Magellanic Cloud.  This was all very high level scientific work.   Mrs. Nail  had also met Albert Einstein.

    To us, Mrs. Nail wasn’t an astronomer, she was a gardener and member of the Art Council.  She had bought the McBride property, because her daughter lived in the Robson Valley.  Mrs. Nail lived here during the summer, spending her winters in Vancouver.  She didn’t have a vehicle and if she needed to go into McBride, she would just start walking down the road, and someone would stop and pick her up.

    She could also be seen walking past our house with a basket full of jars, to collect drinking water from the springs, just past our house.  She bought herself a rototiller, and I would till her garden, and she would let me us the machine to till our garden.

    It was pretty amazing and unexpected to find someone with such an impressive record of writing important scientific papers, living next door to us in rural Robson Valley.

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