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Virginia Johnson Havel ’47

Born with a love for the outdoors, Gini was an early proponent of land preservation efforts in Marin County, California. She met the love of her life at Reed, and became an educator, artist, and mother to four children.

She was born in Portland, where her father was a medical doctor and taught at the University of Oregon. Her mother maintained their home in the scenic neighborhood of Council Crest in the hills above the city. Her father introduced her to tennis at an early age; Gini played the sport into her 80s and was a fierce competitor on the tennis court.

While studying biology at Reed, Gini completed a project on why crayfish blood is blue and spent a year in Mexico studying Spanish and art. She wrote her thesis, “A Study of the Specific Action of Adrenalin and of the Role of the Sinus Gland in the Production of Hyperglycemia in the Crayfish,” with Prof. Lewis Kleinholz [biology 1946­–80] advising.

While at Reed, Gini met Dick Havel ’46 at a local pool. The friend who was supposed to give them a ride home left them behind and Dick walked Gini home. It was love at first sight. They married in 1945, and after Reed pursued graduate degrees. Dick earned a medical degree and a master’s in chemistry from the University of Oregon, and Gini earned a master’s in physiology from the University of Portland. They moved to New York so Dick could complete his residency at Cornell University’s medical center. In New York, Gini gave birth to her first sons, Chris and Tim.

The family moved to California in 1956. Dick joined the faculty at the University of San Francisco, and Gini gave birth to Peter and Julianne. In 1962, Dick took a sabbatical at the Caroline Institute in Stockholm. When the family returned to Ross, California, Gini attended Dominican University in San Rafael to earn a teaching credential. She went on to teach biology, botany, physiology, anatomy, and nature studies at the College of Marin. In 1966, she and four other women holding graduate degrees in biology founded Natural Science Education Resources, which provided nature education for students in Marin County elementary schools. The idea was to teach ecology in the out-of-doors, “where it’s at.”

“Our message,” said Gini, “is that for man to survive, he must learn to live in balance within the ecosystem. Ecology is everybody’s concern; the need to teach it is becoming recognized in wider and wider circles.”

She was an ardent birder, gardener, tennis player, and photographer, and had a special love for cats. An avid mushroom hunter, she kept secret her favorite spots for gathering chanterelles, boletes, and oyster mushrooms. Gini and Dick traveled the world, particularly enjoying places with a rich natural history of flora and fauna, which Gini documented with beautiful photographs and carefully curated albums.

A pioneer of Marin’s early land preservation efforts, she served on the board and as a teacher at the Environmental Forum and was a member of the California Native Plant Society, the Sierra Club, the Inverness Garden Club, Master Gardeners, and the Audubon Society. Gini wrote articles on gardening and native plants for many of these groups and for Marin County newspapers. As an artist, Gini worked in ceramics, printmaking, and collage. Having studied ceramics at the O’Hanlon Center for the Arts, she had a pottery wheel and a kiln in her art studio at the Havels’ second home in Inverness near Point Reyes, where friends were frequently invited to help create ceramics, prints, and collages.

After Dick passed away in the spring of 2016, Gini moved to Drake Terrace in San Rafael. She lived with her beloved cat Katya and would join her neighbors in museum visits. She is survived by her four children, Chris, Timothy ’75, Peter, and Julianne.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2018

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