Langley merchant Virginia LaRue was a First Street legend

The Queen of Langley was scheduled to make a farewell trip through downtown on Friday afternoon.

Virginia LaRue smiles with daughters Michele (left) and Denise (right) as the Langley City Council last year saluted her contributions to the business community. With them is Mayor Paul Samuelson.

Virginia LaRue smiles with daughters Michele (left) and Denise (right) as the Langley City Council last year saluted her contributions to the business community. With them is Mayor Paul Samuelson.

The Queen of Langley was scheduled to make a farewell trip through downtown on Friday afternoon.

She was to travel up First Street, down Second Street, then up Anthes Avenue.

“It’s a chance for everyone to wave goodbye,” the queen’s daughter, Denise Whitmore, said Thursday.

Then it would be on to nearby Langley Woodmen Cemetery.

On the whole, Virginia LaRue probably would rather be at work.

“She loved working so much, it didn’t matter that she never had a day off,” Whitmore said. “Buying and selling were just a thrill for her.”

LaRue, a stalwart in the Langley business community for nearly 40 years, died peacefully at her Langley home early Tuesday morning, her daughters, and fellow shopkeepers, Whitmore and Michele LaRue, at her bedside.

She was 91.

“What an amazing person she was,” Whitmore said. “She loved everybody, and everybody loved her. She’ll probably be known as ‘The Queen’ by friends and fellow merchants forever.”

“She made an extraordinary life out of an ordinary life,” Michele LaRue added, “thanks to this community.”

Born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1920, Virginia LaRue moved with her pipe-maker husband Travers to Langley in 1972, where they opened a tobacco shop on First Street. His family connections to the town extended back to the turn of the century.

“It was a place to come back to all these years,” Whitmore said.

In the late ’70s, LaRue opened her own shop down the street, an antiques and gifts store. Michele had already opened a variety store on the waterside of First in 1973. Eventually, Denise jointed the club, creating a quaint commercial triumvirate in the Village by the Sea.

Travers LaRue died in 1982, and his wife continued to operate the tobacco shop for another year before closing the business.

“It was difficult without Dad,” Whitmore said. “There was so much of him in that shop.”

Through the years, the family operated businesses in as many as five locations along First Street.

Besides the tobacco shop, Virginia herself ran Virginia’s Antiques, Virginia’s Nauticals and Virginia’s Two. Today, the family has three stores going.

LaRue was a pioneer in the organization of the Langley business community, leading the push to establish a chamber of commerce and a merchants association, Whitmore said.

This past year, she was honored by the Langley Chamber of Commerce and the city of Langley for her work in the community. Mayor Paul Samuelson made a little speech on her behalf at a city council meeting, and she was photographed with the mayor and her two daughters.

“It really made her happy to be honored by the city,” Whitmore said. “She basically really loved this community, and she loved Whidbey Island.”

For years, LaRue also headed up the annual Memorial Day antique shows at the Island County Fairgrounds in Langley.

“She had lots of good stories, and was always laughing,” Whitmore said. “She was really a fun girl.”

LaRue was also a fashion plate.

“She always dressed in something bright and fun,” Whitmore said.

Josh Hauser of the Moonraker Bookstore across the street concurs.

“She always looked so cute,” Hauser said on Thursday.

“There was a woman who loved clothes and who loved to look good. She always had wonderful taste,” she said.

Hauser and LaRue were friends from the day LaRue came to town nearly 40 years ago.

“She was the most vivid, vivacious woman I’ve known, a true driving force and an inspiration for us all,” Hauser said. “She and the girls helped set the tone for Langley years ago — quality shops, always interested in people, something good to say to everybody.”

Besides her two daughters, LaRue is survived by a younger brother, Asa Lee King of Branson, Mo. and other family members in Iowa.

Whitmore said a memorial service will be announced within the next month.

Whitmore and Michele said they would keep their mother’s shop open for the time being, but its future is uncertain.

“There’ll be a big hole without her,” Whitmore said.

 

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