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Virginia Light to retire after 60 years as organist

When a congregation expresses its faith through music, only an organ can produce a sound that is both ethereal and exuberant.
And when Virginia Light is at the keyboard of the organ at First Baptist Church in Jonesborough, she creates a majestic sound of devotion with her music. It’s something she has done for 60 years.
Light has been the organist at First Baptist for the past 11 years, coaxing music each Sunday from the church’s Allen organ.
She will retire as the church’s organist at the end of the month. It will be a bittersweet end to a lifetime of musical performance.
“I hope this doesn’t get me down,” she said. “This is all I have ever done.”
But she says she knows in her heart it is time to walk away.
“My eyes are giving me trouble and I have arthritis in my knees,” she said. “People have told me ‘No, don’t retire. Play as long as you can.’ Well, I have.”
Playing the organ is something she can almost feel in the soles of her feet and down deep in her heart.
“When I’m playing, doing the congregational music – that just thrills my soul,” Light said. “When the piano is playing along and sometimes the trumpets and other instruments, it just thrills me to death.”
Light, who turned 80 on Dec. 9, lives in Jonesborough with her husband, George. She is the daughter of Argil and Ethel Good of Sulphur Springs and one of seven children.
Light started her musical journey as a fourth grader at Sulphur Springs School, where she started taking piano lessons from Cathleen Burbage.
She added organ lessons to her studies, also taught by Burbage, when she was a freshman in high school, studying at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Johnson City.
She was in numerous recitals, she said, but her first real public performance was at a wedding, when she was 16 years old.
“It was at Fairview United Methodist Church and it was on a pump organ,” Light recalled. “I sure wish I had a recording of that and could hear it now. I know it was awful. I just kept pumping and pumping.
“I’ll never forget it. I told them I didn’t think I could do it, but I would try, so I did. People were awfully nice and they bragged on the music.”
Light also did her first funeral at about that same age, she said.
“I went to the funeral, just to attend, not to play for it,” Light said. “But when the family saw me, they came and got me and asked me to play the prelude and postlude. They didn’t have anyone else to do it, so I said ‘yes.’”
Since that time, she has played at more than 3,000 funerals. She has lost count of the number of weddings at which she has performed. Through the years, she has also served as organist for several area churches and has taught both organ and piano lessons.
Her favorite piece to play is The Lord’s Prayer, something she has played “millions of times.” She also loves Ave Maria and Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major – a popular wedding selection.
Light says she has many memories of playing for different churches and different events, but one particular Sunday morning, she says, is unforgettable.
“I was sitting at the organ, playing during services when, all of a sudden, a mouse ran across the pedal board and over my feet,” Light said. “I don’t know how I did it, but I just kept playing. I don’t remember what I was playing. I don’t know how I got through the hymn and I have no idea where that mouse went!”
Her congregation will no doubt miss seeing her each Sunday morning, seated on her organ bench.
And while she won’t be there as usual, Light said she won’t be giving up her music entirely.
“I’ll play on occasion if they need me,” she said.