Virginia Snyder: Left a Legacy in South Palm Beach County, Was Influential in my Career
On Monday, I celebrated once again, another birthday. It was another memorable one in many ways.
I had been anticipating the respite – my first in many years – and while I vowed not to check my email, something spurred me to do so.
The email, datelined March 20, bore the subject, Virginia Snyder. My former colleague Carol wrote, “C. Ron, Virginia Snyder has passed.”
I thought, “Why did this have to happen while I am away?” But I quickly caught myself. While we love Virginia, at 96, she lived a long and fruitful life. Furthermore, it was God’s plan to call her home on my birthday.
We all will remember Virginia as being a longtime private investigator, well known for her relentless determination to help the oppressed and improve her community. The most important thing in life to her – at least in her later years – were making sure the less fortunate in Delray Beach were treated fairly, her friends and the completion of a documentary on her life. Also high on her list was finding the person who poured a hot liquid on Melissa Elizabeth Daniels, a homeless woman, in 2014. Daniels, 41, later died and since then, there was hardly a week that Virginia did not prod me to “find the culprit.”
I would be remiss if I did not share some of the things that made her so special.
When I came to Delray Beach as a cub reporter in the late 1980s, Virginia Artrip Snyder and her late husband, Ross, were among some of the first people to welcome me to this then sleepy ocean side enclave. I recall having lunch at Virginia’s historic Cathcart House, built in 1902 near the southeast corner of South Swinton and Atlantic avenues. I found her to be a kind and loving person who was as beautiful and genuine on the inside as she was on the out. What I cherished most were the lessons I learned from this award-winning reporter turned private eye. Virginia had her pulse on the community.
I spent so much time at the Snyders’ home, that one of my former colleagues jokingly dubbed it my Delray Beach downtown bureau. She had a nose for investigating difficult and challenging cases and a penchant for seeking justice especially for the underdog. She also had a caring heart for people, especially the indigent.
In fact, the classic stereotype of a reporter as being an undetached observer did not fit Virginia. She was so active in her community that on March 14 1968 she and a group of women at her Unitarian church founded the South County Neighborhood Center in Boca Raton. That organization evolved into the Mae Volen Senior Center. She also was instrumental in founding the Florence Fuller Day Care Center and AVDA (Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse) in Delray Beach.
She had a story behind many of the big ones she wrote. And even at 96, her memory was as solid as a bank safe. One of my favorites was while acting on a tip – which she was a magnet at attracting – she wrote an 11-part expose about the inhumane conditions at the South Florida State Mental Hospital. I also understood her disdain for the then local police department. She later tempered her rhetoric after a change of leadership.
Virginia was a master of coining phrases and weaving words, and I wanted to emulate her. She shared many invaluable techniques of gathering information and building sources, many which were priceless throughout my career.
When two local police chiefs complained to my bosses about my reporting, and one even maintained an investigative file on me, I was frustrated – not fearful. It was Virginia who gave me the impetus to continue forging ahead. She believed failure was never an option. “C. Ron, you are all the people and the few good patrol officers have. You can’t quit now because those damn bastards would win,” she once told me with no wavering as she imparted her directive.
In her later years, Virginia wanted to remain involved because she felt “sitting home in a rocking chair makes you get old quickly.”
So she often spoke to my youth mentoring program. In December, she was thrilled to serve as one of the judges of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Oratorical contest. The following day, she said how happy she was listening to those “bright and articulate little boys and girls.”
Last year when a documentary on her was being produced, I was honored to be one of the sources she recommended.
One of Virginia’s wish was for us to author a book together. I promised her I would make time to sit still once I return from my vacation.
In retrospect, I know that God does not make mistakes. I think he had a plan for us when he called her home on my birthday. Virginia, thank you for the memories; they will forever live on in me.