Virginia Grissom-0029b

Virginia Grissom celebrates her 95th birthday with friends at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s EngAge Wellness Center.

Virginia Grissom, a longtime supporter of the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the Girl Scouts, was known as a no-nonsense, fiercely independent woman who once canoed with Eleanor Roosevelt and completed all but the dissertation portion of her doctorate in math.

A native of Springfield, Massachusetts, Grissom came to Omaha in 1953 with her husband, Dr. Robert Grissom, who was the first full-time chairman of UNMC’s Department of Internal Medicine.

Virginia Grissom died Feb. 26 at an assisted living facility in Omaha. She was 99.

“She was a wonderful role model who was years ahead of her time in everything,” said Nancy Grissom, the oldest of the Grissoms’ four children and a Newton, Massachusetts, resident.

Virginia Grissom earned a mathematics degree from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts then earned a master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin and completed all but the dissertation required for a doctoral degree in math. She also worked as a statistician at the university.

She met her husband in Wisconsin. Robert Grissom was stationed there as a physician in the military during World War II. They married in 1944 and had three daughters and a son during their 64-year marriage.

Nancy Grissom said her mother felt strongly about raising her children, and the family could afford for her to volunteer rather than have a working career. She took volunteering seriously.

“That gave her much of the same challenge that you might have with a job,” Nancy Grissom said.

Virginia Grissom supported the internal medicine department and spent hours assisting families in the surgery waiting room. Nancy Grissom said her father always consulted with her mother. Virginia Grissom and her husband contributed generously to many programs and departments at the medical center.

Virginia Grissom also volunteered with the Girl Scouts in Omaha, eventually becoming president of the Great Plains Council. She joined the organization as a youth in 1930. At one point, she rowed across a lake in a canoe with Eleanor Roosevelt, first lady of the United States. She was a camp counselor through college and graduate school.

According to one story, Virginia Grissom once encountered a rattlesnake at a camp. She grabbed an ax and chopped off the snake’s head.

Wendy Hamilton, chief development officer for the Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska, said Virginia Grissom had an unwavering belief that girls could do anything.

In addition to Nancy Grissom, she is survived by daughters Carol of Washington, D.C., and Leslie of Philadelphia; a son, Tim of Indiana; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be June 29 at Dundee Presbyterian Church, 5312 Underwood Ave., at a time to be determined.

The family requests that memorials go to the Girl Scouts, the Omaha Symphony and the University of Nebraska Foundation.

Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.

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