Virginia Geddes Dukes

Virginia Geddes Dukes, 86, died July 31, 2012 following the long-term effects of a brain stem stroke. She was a second-generation native of the Pomona Valley.

Ms. Geddes Dukes was born on December 9, 1925 to Madge Wire Geddess, a Pomona College graduate and social activist, and Ernest R. Geddess, who served for 16 years as a California Assemblyman representing the Pomona and San Gabriel valleys.

Ms. Geddes Dukes, who graduated from Pomona High School in 1943, acquired a keen interest in social issues and politics from her parents. She also inherited good looks. While she was working at the Ontario Army Air Field, she attracted the attention of a Stars and Stripes photographer. A shot of the 18-year-old beauty, sitting on a diving board and wearing a bikini that is modest by today’s standards, was selected to grace the cover of the armed forces publication.

While in college, Ms. Geddes Dukes also attracted the attention of Robert W. Dukes, a World War II Navy pilot. The couple married in 1945, settling in Claremont and later moving to LaVerne. While she did a bit more modeling for local print ads, Ms. Geddes Dukes mainly devoted herself to caring for a growing family while Mr. Dukes attended medical school and later had a local medical practice. She did retain a love of high-end, couture-style sewing, an interest she passed on to her daughter. 

Ms. Geddes Dukes’ children remember her as slightly more cosmopolitan than the average suburban mom. Daughter Nancy recalls that her mother considered a trip to the Norton Simon Museum and an afternoon tea at the Huntington Library a perfect birthday party for a 9-year-old.

Ms. Geddes Dukes once told her children, somewhat apologetically, “I’ll never be a cookie-baking, bedtime story-reading mother or grandma, nor a Donna Reed who vacuums in high heels and pearls.” To that, her oldest son answered, “That’s okay, mom; not everyone has an Auntie Mame for a mother,” referring to the free-spirited title character played by Rosalind Russell in the popular 1958 film.

While she may have been somewhat of an unconventional mother, Ms. Geddes Dukes was a loving one. An accomplished pianist, she would lull her children to sleep at night by playing the composition of their choice. The kids would keep their bedroom doors open, the better to hear family favorites like “Rustles of Spring” and “Rhapsody in Blue,” featuring a jazzed-up ending, flood up the stairs.

 Ms. Geddes Dukes’ children shared another memory of her thoughtfulness. When her son Robert was preparing, with some trepidation, for a school function where he had to dance, his mother joined him in dance lessons at Arthur Murray’s studio. She kept the lessons a secret to protect his “high school dignity,” he recalled.

Although Ms. Geddes Dukes and her husband divorced in 1968, they remained lifelong friends. Her new single status heralded a renaissance in her life. She attended the University of La Verne 30 years after her college education was interrupted by marriage and received her bachelor of art’s degree, cum laude. The return to school allowed her to immerse herself in a lifelong passion, Egyptology, as well as prepare for a career.

After working for a time at Cal Poly Pomona’s Foundation office, she joined the Teacher Education Department of the Claremont Graduate University. Her job was to ensure that the school’s aspiring teachers had everything in order for their teaching credentials. Many of her students continued to keep in touch long after they had embarked on their teaching careers. After her retirement at age 74, Ms. Geddes Dukes continued to work part-time at CGU until she was 82, when she suffered a stroke.

While she was married, Ms. Geddes Dukes acted the part of the doctor’s wife, entertaining extensively at the family home. Her single life was dramatically different.

“She almost had 2 lives,” her son Robert shared. “After she and my father divorced, my mother came to the conclusion that she probably shouldn’t be married. She liked being with herself and being her own person. She was quite an individualist.”

Ms. Geddes Dukes produced a series of audiotapes covering the history of the pyramids and the Nile Valley.  She traveled extensively throughout Egypt, Europe, England and Russia. Her daughter, who worked in Saudi Arabia for many years, often joined Ms. Geddes Dukes in her travels. They would meet in London before departing on their adventures.

Ms. Geddes Dukes is survived by her son, Robert Dukes, and his wife Mary of Claremont; by her daughter, Nancy Dukes, of Pomona; by her son, David Dukes, and his wife Lola of Upland; by her 5 grandchildren, Jennifer Gomez, Lauren Dukes, Audrey Dukes, Allison Dukes and Daniel Dukes; and by her great-grandson, Liam Gomez.

The graveside service at Pomona Valley Memorial Park will be private per her wishes. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial donations be made to VNA Hospice & Palliative Care of Southern California, 150 West First St, Suite 270, Claremont, CA 91711.  



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