By Chris Helvey
Every stratum of mankind has leaders, those folks who summon up their courage, step forward from the masses, and do their very best to make a difference in the world they live in. They can be political leaders like Abraham Lincoln, religious leaders like Billy Graham or athletic leaders like Michael Jordan. However, sometimes leaders labor in vineyards unseen, or under appreciated, by the average person. One such person is Virginia “Ducky” Moore.
Born at the Winnie Scott Hospital on East Second Street in Frankfort in 1952, Virginia Moore has worked for more than 50 years in the unique neighborhood known as South Frankfort to share the message of the gospel and try to help young people find their way to the Lord. Her own childhood helped prepare her for this way of service, as her mother, Mattie E. Brooks, pastored a Holiness church on East Third Street.
Growing up, the first thing Virginia would do each morning was to visit her mother’s bedroom where she would find her mother sitting in bed, with pillows propping her up, reading the Bible. Virginia remembers one morning she walked up to her mother’s bedside and “told her she was crazy for reading that book so much. She smiled at me,” Virginia recalls, “then went back to reading the word of the Lord.”
Virginia soon found that she also enjoyed reading, a skill that stood her in good stead throughout her school days. She first attended Rosenwald Laboratory School, then Second Street Elementary, before moving on to Frankfort High School. After her high school graduation, Virginia attended Kentucky State University.
Although she had opportunities to travel and move to other towns, Virginia felt that her calling was to minister on a daily basis to the young people of South Frankfort. Very early in life she sensed that God wanted her to live her life as a missionary — a missionary to the boys and girls who lived between the Kentucky River and the Capitol. Virginia notes that these were and are “all nice kids who have had to battle a number of bad influences.”
The mother of three sons and a daughter, and a grandmother to 10, she lives only a short distance from where she was born. She loves to visit with all her grandchildren, but has an especially close relationship with her granddaughter Diamond, who currently attends Frankfort High, where she is class president and a cheerleader. Diamond’s goal is to become a nurse and help take care of others.
Although Virginia has never had a pulpit of her own, she has shared daily religious messages with the young people with whom she has come in contact, giving them what many of them called “The Talk.” One of her children, the Rev. Ron Moore Jr., now Associate Pastor of First Corinthian Baptist Church on Murray Street, remembers that as he grew up, children from all over the neighborhood would come to their house to ask his mother questions about God and His ways.
She would share God’s word with them and tell them to follow “God’s way of doing things” and not to let “evil and evil doers divert you from your chosen path.” Even when some of these children later strayed, many of them continue to seek Virginia’s advice and guidance.
For example, a man recently released from prison after serving 20 years made it a point to come back to South Frankfort and visit with Virginia, and ask her for guidance. She notes her favorite passage in the Bible is Psalm 103:1-5, which she reads every day:
Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits — who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
In addition to spreading God’s word, Virginia Moore tried to make sure her children ate healthy foods, at least some of the time. Ron recalls that his mother made all her children eat something “green” (think pea soup, salad or Brussel sprouts) as part of their dinner in an effort to promote good health. Ron remembers that one morning when he went to put his shoes on, he discovered that one of his brothers had used those shoes as a hiding place for Brussel sprouts from the previous night’s meal.
Ms. Moore’s reputation for cooking vegetables was so strong that once when she baked a delicious carrot cake none of her children’s friends would eat any because they “knew she had used real carrots.” On the other side of the table, for many years Virginia Moore ran a profitable cake baking business.
The most important influence in her life was her mother, who in additional to sharing the gospel with Virginia daily, was also a published author. Mattie Brooks books’ “Three Little Fishing Worms and their Cousin” and “Smoot & Smirt — Smutt & Smitt in Whoopty Doo, California” (a double children’s book) and “Smiles” (a book of religious poetry for children) were very popular and helped advance the ministry she and her daughter shared.
Another major influence in Virginia’s life was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As a teenager she was part of the crowd estimated at 10,000 people who, on March 5, 1964, marched peacefully up Capital Avenue and then rallied at the Capitol in an effort to promote legislation prohibiting segregation and discrimination in businesses, stores, theaters and restaurants across the commonwealth.
The Louisville Courier-Journal, in a page one article the day following the march, noted that baseball legend Jackie Robinson and then Gov. Edward Breathitt’s 15-year-old daughter Fran were both among the marchers, and that the popular folk singing trio Peter, Paul and Mary performed, singing “Let My People Go.” In addition, Heather C. Watson notes in her blog that King’s “repeated refrain in his stirring speech was that ‘Now is the time’ for change.” Virginia Moore remembers how amazed she was at the size of the throng and how this mixture of white and black men and women listened attentively to King’s speech.
Even as she approaches 70 years old, Virginia Moore continues to try to help others find God’s way. Following the June 5, 2020, Black Lives Matter march from the grounds of the Old Capitol to the Capitol, Virginia Moore sat in a chair and talked with a number of the young people who had just completed the trek, sharing with them her memories of making a similar march over 50 years earlier with King, and urging them to seek a path of peace and love.
She discussed with them how to deal with the challenges of life and told them that “the word of God should be the most important thing” and that “they could always depend on Him.” As she noted during a recent interview, “God is good” and “forgiveness can be a powerful instrument of healing.”
Barbara Petty, who helped coordinate details of the 2020 march, and serves as a volunteer at The Kings Center, a faith-based, non-profit community center located at 202 E. Third St., remembers Virginia being so peaceful and positive the day of the BLM March. Barbara recently recalled how Virginia told a number of the marchers that she “wanted to pray over them and to make sure that God’s hand covered them.” Barbara described Virginia as “a pillar of South Frankfort, a true light in the community.”
Although she grew up during a period of notable racial discrimination and heated tensions between blacks and whites, Virginia remembers her childhood in Kentucky’s capital city fondly. She vividly recalls playing hide-and-seek and other children’s games with youngsters of both races. Even as she acknowledges that in Frankfort, as in America at large, there is much work still to be done before racism can be viewed as being an element of the past, Virginia “Ducky” Moore firmly believes that “Frankfort is a good place to live.”
If her words ring true, then surely some of the credit for creating such an understanding and tolerant atmosphere must be given to Virginia and her labors for the Lord in that special community so near to the banks of the Kentucky River, known today, as it was the day she was born, as South Frankfort.
Chris Helvey is a Kentucky writer, editor, and publisher. The author of 12 books of fiction and poetry, he is a founding member of the Bluegrass Writers Coalition. His latest novel is “Into the Wilderness.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 502-330-4746.