This Saturday, May 30, Hillside Cemetery, owned by Wilton Congregational Church, will be dedicating a garden planted in memory of Virginia “Ginny” Rico, longtime principal of Cider Mill School. The garden is in the new Spruce Section of the cemetery, and the service will take place on at 1 p.m. at Hillside Cemetery, with a light reception to follow.
Ginny spent 35 years in service to Wilton’s children and educators in the Wilton Public School District. She lost her 14-year battle to multiple myeloma in June 2013. Her husband, Frank Rico, sat down with GOOD Morning Wilton to look back at her life. These are his words, as told to editor Heather Borden Herve.
What distinguished Ginny as a school administrator is she is the classical middle child. Although she’s only the second oldest of four, she was the oldest female. It was always about taking care, helping mommy, including changing the diapers of one of her brothers. A classical middle child kind of syndrome, make everybody happy. But disguised in all that, because she didn’t have an ego, was what we used to call in corporate life–a managerial courage. I knew plenty of managers who made hundreds of thousands and in some cases millions of dollars who couldn’t make a decision to buy a box of paper clips. Ginny had the managerial courage, including going to [former schools’ superintendent David] Clune, before he retired, and going to [former superintendent] Gary [Richards] and saying, ‘Here are the facts, you are the superintendent, something’s got to be done.’
Ask [Wilton state senator] Toni Boucher. Toni and Ginny were young mothers together. They went in different directions, but they both served the community, and remained friends. One day, Toni said to Ginny after Ginny had been principal for a while, ‘Hey Ginny, you know how they used to call Cider Mill ‘the weak link?’ Ginny said, ‘Yeah, I took over that school, and it ain’t a weak link no more.’ It’s hard to describe that to the general public, but that’s her lasting legacy. She took a school that was not doing well, she moved people around, she had other administrators say, ‘How do you do that? There’d be a revolt in my school if I moved that person.’ Ginny just said, ‘It wasn’t right for the kids. Something needed to be done. I just couldn’t let it stay that way.’
Ginny hired assistant principals, and wished bon voyage to four or five assistant principals. Although selection was my business–I headed HR, so I did a lot of selecting of people–Ginny was unbelievably good at it. After the third assistant she hired who then went on to become principals and directors of curriculum and what have you, she said, ‘I’m afraid that they’re going to think that I can’t hang on to my staff.’ And I said, ‘Well yeah, that’s a good thing. You’ve selected well, and Gin, as you well know, one year with a good assistant principal and a good teacher is worth a lot more than 10 years with a terrible one,’ because you’re forever back-peddling and trying to get things done. So she was proud of the fact that she had made good selections and they went off to successes of their own. And she did all this while she had multiple myeloma.
Another tribute to her, is what Gary [Richards] told the current [Cider Mill] principal, Jennifer Mitchell. He said, ‘This is not a recovery project. When you go to work on your first day, it’s going to function. You don’t have problems.’ And I think that was a very nice thing for him to say.
Ginny and I got married when she had just turned 20, and she was a senior in college. But I didn’t marry a kid. June 27, 1964 it was very, very, very hot. Got married in a church in Garden City. Ginny’s older brother went to pick up the cake. The baker says to him, ‘Put it in the trunk.’ He put it on the back seat. Driving, on a hot day, whipped cream on the outside, fresh fruit between the layers–well, it slid. We walk in to the restaurant for the reception, and the maitre d’ is beside himself, comes running up and says, ‘It wasn’t us! It wasn’t us! We didn’t do it!’ We go in the kitchen–some of the whipped cream was off, it was a little off-kilter. She says, in her wedding dress, the happiest day of her life, ‘Got a spatula? Got a can of whipped cream?’ She goes… [mimes spraying and spreading the whipped cream to fix the cake, then handing the spatula back…] ‘Here, you finish the rest.’ [Laughs]
I should have said, ‘You know what Gin? You work, I’ll give birth to the kids, I’ll stay home.’ [Laughs]
She’s got a sister, [Patty], who everyone says looks like her. I don’t think so but, her grandmother used to say, ‘Patty’s cute, but Ginny’s beautiful.’ She was pretty, smart, tireless, brave…sexy as hell! [Laughs] She had great gams!
Ginny always got ahead of herself, she skipped [grades] a couple of times. So by the time she was graduating from college she would have been 20. We got married when she was going into her senior year, so that slowed her down a little. But look back historically at what was available to females–you’re going to get married and become a mom; you become a secretary, you become a nurse, you become a teacher. Nobody ever said, ‘Take accounting and become CEO of a corporation. Or a CFO of a corporation.’ It was a kind of limited perspective most women had in those days because people didn’t talk about them doing much other than that.
We got married and started to have kids, Ginny had started to teach and this is how restrictive it was: she said, ‘I’m not going back to school. I’m pregnant so they don’t like women to walk around pregnant.’ I said, ‘Well what do you think, the kids have never seen their mothers, their aunts, their neighbors who were pregnant?’ She said, ‘Well, they don’t like that, so I’m going to tell them that I’m not coming back.’ Thats what we did, and we also mutually decided that she wasn’t going to teach while the kids were small.
Ginny worked in the Wilton district for 30 years. She started as a substitute teacher. In those days, substitutes got paid $25 a day. Substitutes could just leave at the end of the day so she could be here when the kids got home–she never wanted latchkey kids. I used to say, ‘$25 a day, why do you do this? You could be a clerk typist and make more money than that.’ So did she always want to be a teacher? Pretty much. We weren’t sending anyone to Harvard on $25 a day! [Laughs]
I used to do a lot of international travel. Back in the days before 9/11, if you wanted to come meet me at the plane you could. You could go right there as I got off the plane. So one day I came back from somewhere, and I get off the plane, and I step into the terminal, and there’s Ginny. She had the kids–Jennifer, the oldest, was hanging on and our son was in the carriage. And I figured, oh my God, what they hell happened to her? I always loved coming home, and I hated leaving. I was away for like two weeks or something. I grab her, and she starts to cry. ‘What’s the matter?’ I ask. She says, ‘I missed you. I missed you so much, I’m so tired of talking baby-talk.’
She was an unbelievable mother, she was an unbelievable housekeeper, you’re free to walk through the house, this is the house that Ginny built. She never complained about that. I’d mow the lawn, and when I wasn’t here she’d mow the lawn. All good things come to an end I guess.
Ginny and I were married 49 years when she died. In fact the day after she passed away was our 49th anniversary.
She was diagnosed in May of 1999. We had never heard of multiple myeloma. For almost 13 years, every 6-9 months we went down to Little Rock, AR [to the University of Arkansas Myeloma Institute]. Sometimes it was only for a day or two because they’d give her an MRI, and she was in remission for seven or eight years. Then she fell out of remission for a very short period of time and the doctor put her right back into remission. And then the last year and a half or so he couldn’t get her back in remission.
We would go down to Little Rock, she would walk around with, what looked like a lunchbox, and in the lunchbox were generally three bags of ‘stuff.’ She would have a port and she was getting a 24 hour/7 day a week infusion of these drugs in order to put her back into remission. And it just wasn’t holding. And so we came home and she spent sometime at Greenwich Hospital. Because she had such conviction and courage, she could never understand why others would say, ‘I sick, I can’t do anything.’
[Teaching] is what she wanted to do, this is what she liked doing. I begged her at one point, ‘Why don’t you retire, and we’ll travel.’ No, she wanted to do this, so she did. People from school would visit her, and they’d talk about something at school. That’s fine, if that’s what made her happy. I could never really say no to Ginny.
When we first came to Wilton, we lived on Sugarloaf Dr. In those days, they used to say, ‘Super 7 is going right through your living room! You’ll be three feet from the road!’ We bought it anyway.
I think that was one of, I think that was only one of, well three, I was going to say one of only two regrets, I think three regrets, one was that she didn’t get sick the other regret is that she wasn’t a grandmother,