New Scholarship Honors Late Professor’s Love of the Arts, Mary Baldwin

June 20, 2019

Professor of Physical Education and Dance Gwen Walsh from the 1978 Bluestocking, Mary Baldwin's yearbook

It was their mother’s lifelong devotion to the arts that inspired Kevin Walsh and Robyn McNeil to create a scholarship fund in her memory, the Gwen Walsh Memorial Scholarship for the Arts Fund.

“When Mom turned 90, we had a big party for her,” said daughter Robyn McNeil.  “At the time, I asked her what she thought of us establishing a scholarship in her honor. She liked the idea. When I asked her what the scholarship should be, she said she would like it to go to a local student who wished to study the arts.”  

A longtime faculty member at Mary Baldwin University, Gwen Walsh started teaching in 1962 and served as a professor of dance and physical education and fencing instructor until her retirement in 1990. Gwen Walsh passed away on May 4 in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, at the age of 94.

Professor of Physical Education and Dance Gwen Walsh from the 1978 Bluestocking, Mary Baldwin's yearbook

“Her No. 1 priority was her students and ensuring that they learned something of value to them,” said Kevin Walsh. “I can still name students who have been lifelong friends with Mom, and stopped in to visit her long after graduating.”

Gwen Walsh’s longtime colleague and friend Betty Kegley, professor emerita of physical and health education, remembered her embodying the qualities of friendliness, frankness, originality, and patience. They shared a double desk in the King building, and, as Kegley put it, “looked at each other for about 30 years.”

“We were very fortunate when Gwen joined us because she was a wonderful person and teacher,” said Kegley. “She had boundless energy; when the rest of us collapsed, she was still going!”

Betty Kegley (left), professor emerita of physical and health education, and Gwen Walsh (right) were longtime colleagues and friends (pictured in 1978).

Gwen Walsh was particularly passionate about modern dance, and she revived the fencing program, skiing at the Homestead and Massanutten, and ice skating at the now-closed hotel on Afton Mountain for students at Mary Baldwin. She continued to coach the fencing team into her 70s, even after she had retired from teaching.

She was also dedicated to welcoming international students and students in general, bringing them into her home and taking them on trips, such as to the Kennedy Center for dance performances.

Kegley remembers phone conversations with Gwen Walsh at her rest home before she passed away. “Even though Gwen was suffering from memory loss, she always recognized my voice, and all she wanted to talk about was Mary Baldwin,” said Kegley. “Isn’t it wonderful that that’s what she remembered?”

Gwen Walsh teaching dance at Mary Baldwin in 1973 (left) and with student Libby Linden in 1987 (right).

In addition to her professional pursuit of dance and art through movement, Gwen Walsh choreographed and costumed many local theater productions and enjoyed photography, often processing photos in a darkroom in her basement. She was an avid painter and would take classes in different styles of painting over the years, including oil, watercolor, Japanese ink wash, and painting on silk. She and friends also founded Staunton Puppets, creating their own marionettes and performing for local schools and events throughout the Shenandoah Valley.

“A couple of years ago, Mom and I were talking, and she surprised me with an amazing comment out of the blue,” Kevin Walsh remembered. “She said, ‘You know, I’m really proud of myself for raising you kids, sending you to college, and accomplishing it all while doing what I love.’ She was talking about sticking with her teaching career, and specifically about teaching dance.”

Gwen Walsh revived the fencing program at Mary Baldwin, pictured in 1966 (left), and she coached well into her 70s, pictured in 1999 (right).

She also loved to travel, taking several trips to Europe and Japan to visit family and friends. During one of her trips to Paris, she studied under Marcel Marceau, the French actor and mime artist.

She earned a bachelor of science in education from the Bouvè-Boston School, part of Tufts University, and a master of education from the University of Virginia.

Her children have established the scholarship with a lead gift of $25,000, and have also designated the fund as the recipient of donations in her memory.

Students who receive the Gwen Walsh Memorial Scholarship for the Arts can be at the undergraduate or graduate level, with first preference given to those from the local community (Staunton, Augusta County, Harrisonburg, or Waynesboro) who demonstrate both academic excellence and financial need. It may be applied to tuition, fees, academic materials and equipment, or global travel and study abroad. MBU’s Office of Financial Aid will award the scholarship, which can be renewed for up to three additional years.

Thinking of the future recipients of the Gwen Walsh scholarship, Kevin Walsh hopes that it will enable young people to pursue their dreams even if they aren’t considered entirely practical.

“The scholarship is our way to contribute a little something toward letting someone follow their dreams,” he said.

Robyn McNeil, Kevin Walsh, and their mother in 1981 (left to right)

A celebration of Gwen Walsh’s life will be held at 3 p.m. on July 20 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Staunton. Former Mary Baldwin students or colleagues who would like to contribute photos or anecdotes for her memorial may send them to gwenwaltribute@gmail.com. More details are available in her obituary.

Memorial donations to the scholarship fund at MBU may be made in her memory at marybaldwin.edu/give (specify the Gwen Walsh Memorial Scholarship for the Arts).