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On Island Profile: Corinne Lockhart

June 5, 2005– Talking with Corinne Lockhart is listening to living history. She has been a part of her beloved St. Thomas community for 81 years, and she is happy to share that history — sometimes with a quick smile, other times with a show of sadness.
Lockhart has been many things to many people, something most of us may only aspire to. She has been a steadfast mother to her brood of four boys and one girl; she was one of the founding members of the Girl Scout movement on St. Thomas and St. John, has taught ceramics, and even owns an international doll collection. In addition to being a four-time president of the Friends of Denmark, she is the widow of one of the pillars of the community, Herbert Lockhart, who died in 1990.
Oh yes, and she works out at Curves in Lockhart Gardens three times a week with her 22-year-old granddaughter, Ellyn.
This is to touch only on some aspects of the pert, brown-eyed Lockhart's colorful and busy life. She is comfortable with visitors. She clearly loves to talk about her experiences, especially those of her early girlhood, always dwelling on the human side of things.
"I was always getting in trouble," she admits. That mischievous side of her character emerges now and then as she talks. She tells one especially funny tale about an encounter with a dentist, but, "Oh no," she says, "You can't print that!"
However, she allows a tale about how she used her catechism money for candy and never went to her classes. "Aunt Blanche found out about that, and no more movies. And I had to go and visit old people, whether I liked it or not."
Aunt Blanche is Blanche Sasso, who died last month at age 105. Sasso and Lockhart's mother embroidered the first V.I. flag.
In 1921 Lockhart's mother, Grace, had just married D.W. Sparks, a captain's yeoman aboard the USS Vixen, commanded by William Russell White, who also was chief of staff for the territory's civilian governor, Rear Adm. Sumner E.W. Kittelle. When Kittelle asked White to come up with an idea for a flag, White immediately turned to Sparks because of his artistic ability.
Looking at the Great Seal of the United States, Sparks borrowed the majestic symbol of an eagle. He placed three arrows in the bird's left claw to symbolize the three Virgin Islands (as well as freedom, happiness and independence) and an olive branch in the right claw to represent peace.
The Vixen had no facilities for flag-making, so Sparks took his design home for his wife and Sasso to embroider.
After a girlhood spent on St. Thomas, Corinne Lockhart went off in 1941 to attend Berea College in Kentucky. Before she left, however, a certain young Marine, Dale Garee, had had his eye on her. "I loved to dance, and he loved to dance," she recalls, "but I had to get an education before anything else."
Then in 1944, when Lockhart was home from school, Garee proposed, and Lockhart says, "I accepted immediately." Garee went to camp in California and Lockhart continued her education at Berea, finally joining him in California. "The war was not over," Lockhart says, "and I was worried. I decided to get pregnant because then at least, I would have a child." As it turned out, she did become pregnant, only to have Garee die on American soil in a car accident one day before his 28th birthday.
Lockhart left California to be with Garee's family in West Va. and gave birth to her son, Dale, there with the family. She did move back to St. Thomas but always kept in touch with the Garee family. Lockhart returned to school in Kentucky, taking Dale with her, but she had to come home because of the baby's health problems.
Upon returning to St. Thomas, she met and married Herbert Lockhart in 1948 and started a new family.
Lockhart had been in Denmark finishing high school when the war broke out. "He was able to get on the last ship out of Denmark to the U.S.," she says. "He graduated from Worcester Academy and then attended the Wharton School of Finance until 1942, when he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. He then came home in 1946 and joined his father's business enterprise."
Lockhart found herself in the new role of a diplomat's wife when her husband was appointed Royal Swedish Consul to the King of Sweden. Corinne didn't mention this in recalling her experiences — she doesn't appear to stand much on ceremony. However, prominently displayed in the foyer is a picture of Herbert receiving the Commander Cross of the Royal Order of the Polar Star from the Consul General of Sweden, with Corinne looking on.
And Lockhart soon found herself in another role: managing the Lockhart Department Store, a Main Street institution, from 1956 until 1968, when the store closed. "When the business office moved to the country, I quit," she says. "They asked me why, and I told them, 'I'm retired.'"
For Corinne, retirement meant being able to dedicate herself more to her primary passion, the Girl Scouts. Lockhart was the first president of the Girl Scout Council of the Virgin Islands and served as a leader. In fact, her name is almost synonymous with the Girl Scouts. Lockhart saw to it that the girls got experience outside the territory and frequently took groups ("29 girls and myself") to Puerto Rico for summer camps. "We started the first English language camp there," she says.
She recounted an untoward experience, however, when she took some cadets to the states.
"I took four cadets to Syracuse University for a summer course, and we had to stay in co-ed dorms. I was very upset, utterly disgusted. You can't have 14-year-old girls in a situation like that, and I told them so. I told the girls to walk with their eyes straight ahead."
In the mid-'70s, Lockhart helped St. Thomas get its own Girl Scout camp when a quarter-acre of a seven-acre camp in Bordeaux was cleared. A couple buildings went up near a duck pond, and Camp Corinne Lockhart was born. It was a retreat for the girls, but church groups, businesses and anyone else who needed some time away from urban island life also found refuge there.
Shortly after Hurricane Hugo struck in 1989, the camp was destroyed by fire. It is now in the process of being rebuilt. Lockhart said she hopes it will reopen later this year.
Corinne and Herbert Lockhart moved into his parent's house after the death of Herbert's father, and at his request, in order to care for his mother who was blind. The home is arguably one of the finest in the territory and one of the most historic. Located off Crystal Gade, in the heart of downtown Charlotte Amalie, it is called the Crystal Palace because it was the first home to be fitted with glass sash windows. Today, Ronnie Lockhart operates it as a unique and elegant guest house.
Corinne and Herbert raised their five children there – Dale Garee, longtime human services health care professional; Catherine Mills Lockhart, who managed Human Services here for decades; Herbert Lockhart III, a well-known perennial political candidate; Ronald Lockhart; and Henrik Lockhart, a WTJX-TV cameraman.
On entering the Lockhart's Mafolie home, the first things you see are the glass cases filled with dolls — hundreds of dolls. "This was inspired by my sister-in-law Gertrude's (Lockhart Dudley Melchoir) travels," Lockhart says. "She would send dolls from all different countries, and I would make new outfits for them." There are dolls from Poland, Germany, Holland … from a bedouin Arab to Shirley Temple.
Lockhart is also a ceramicist. "I used to give classes to seniors in the old Lung Association building in Pollyberg," she says. "One time we were making ducks and painting them white and orange, except for one woman who painted hers blue. I told her she couldn't have a blue duck. Well, she told me she certainly could, and she painted the next one blue."
Lockhart has a gentle
humor that comes out as she talks, and she loves to point out the human side of things. She is very youthful, with still a smattering of light freckles.
Right now she is engaged in a unique project – transporting 1,000 yellow bricks from a factory in Germany to St. Thomas to go in the Fort Christian renovation for the clock tower. She is a four-time past president and an active member of the St. Thomas-St. John Friends of Denmark Society.
At the recent ceremony inaugurating the fort's renovation, Lockhart made an unusual presentation of nearly 1,000 Danish bricks. She and Myron Jackson, head of the V.I. State Historic Preservation Office, on a visit to Denmark, managed to secure 2,000 of the yellow Danish bricks, the same as those used originally in the fort's clock tower.
She told the group at the ceremony, "As we have our society here, the Danes have a West Indian Society. They were happy to get us the bricks," Lockhart said. "They were from the Slenberg Brick Factory, which had made the original ones. The Danish training ship, the Danmark, brought 1,000 to St. Thomas."
Talking about how she joined the Curves work-out program, Lockhart mentions incidentally, "I was in Florida being treated with radiation for cancer at the Moffat Center and staying with my sister when I discovered Curves. I was so happy to find they opened one here." As for the cancer, Lockhart says, "I am fine. God has blessed me."
Looking back on her rich life, what to Lockhart stands out most? She folds her hands and gives the question some thought. "I'm so happy about the people I have met and about the Scouts, they remember me and they appreciate me. Most important was their education," she says.
"I would drill into them that they must get their BS before their Mrs. … I told them, 'If I catch you pregnant before you finish your education, I'll kill you – your mother won't have to!'"
As we're finishing our talk, Lockhart is getting ready to pick up her 22-year-old granddaughter, Ellyn, and head off to Curves for her workout. And next week she is off to Kentucky for a Berea College reunion.
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