A Tribute to Sarah Libbey Greenhalgh

Joyful energetic spark for all life around us

By GEORGE ARCHIBALD

BERRYVILLE, July 20 — More than 300 mourners gathered Friday at Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville to celebrate and pay tribute to the short life of local news reporter-photographer and horse enthusiast Sarah Libbey Greenhalgh, who was tragically murdered July 9 in a yet unresolved crime.

Sarah Libbey Greenhalgh

Miss Greenhalgh, 48, single and never married, only 10 days before had joined several hundred family members and friends at historic Rosemont Manor here for a wedding ceremony at the former home of family Harry F. Byrd, Sr., who served Virginia as governor and U.S. senator for more than half a century from 1924 to 1966.

Now this lovely outgoing and joyous news professional is sadly gone, the victim of what investigators believe was a hate crime perhaps committed by the enraged boyfriend with whom she had just broken up and was actually seen shortly before her death arguing in a public parking lot outside the man’s apartment building in Gainesville on the evening she apparently told him face-to-face that she no longer wanted to see him.

The man’s Somerset Pointe apartment off U.S. Route 29 Lee Highway in Gainesville and car have been searched, computer equipment confiscated that was used for Internet communications the “person of interest” reportedly had with Miss Greengalgh over an extended period prior to the killing.

The man was interrogated by Fauquier and Prince William County sheriff’s deputies and FBI special agents under court-issued warrant, but no arrest has yet been reported.

Miss Greenhalgh, a Maryland native, graduate of Oldfields Preparatory School in Glencoe and Lynchburg University near Roanoke, Va., well-known area equestrian sports competitor will be remembered by her brilliant work for top-ranked international equine publications including the Chronicle of the Horse magazine in nearby Middleburg, for whom she toiled as a prize-winning writer-photographer for more than a decade. She also served as Frederick County reporter for The Winchester Star, owned and published by Thomas T. Byrd of Berryville, at the time of her murder.

She was a professional colleague who I had come to know in the news business and through mutual friends in the thoroughbred horse world, which was our common background.

Law enforcement investigators have disclosed that her apparent murder occurred at her rented home on Dunvegan Farm between Upperville and Marshall sometime during the night of Sunday, July 8-9.

Authorities say they are still pursuing many leads, but their early conclusion remains probable homicide related to the romantic break-up.

The wedding Miss Greenhalgh had attended at Rosemont on July 7 was between Langdon Byrd Greenhalgh, a global humanitarian relief executive, and Natalie Swope of Winchester, a Frederick County English teacher.

The vivacious lady joyfully mingled and embraced fellow guests, clicking photos as she always did wherever she went with a bag full of cameras and lenses.

Fauquier County firefighters and sheriff’s investigators believe a fire was purposely set by Miss Greenhalgh’s killer at the house on Dungevan Farm in an attempt to cover up the homicide. A reported autopsy has confirmed that she died from gunshot wounds, police authorities disclosed.

My own sorrow on hearing the news was my own recollection of a poignant conversation we had just a few months ago about the solitude of journalism that requires writers and editors for news organizations to maintain a distance and independence from the subjects of their reporting.

All journalists make friends with sources and newsmakers we cover. One of my best friends in government as a newsman myself was Sarah’s great-uncle, retired U.S. Sen. Harry F. Byrd, Jr., who was honored newsmaker guest at my own retirement party in September 2005 after 20-plus years as investigative national news reporter for The Washington Times newspaper.

Senator Byrd had granted me an exclusive interview for The Times commemorating his own three decades of public service when he retired from the U.S. Senate in 1986. The full-length recorded interview was published verbatim.

We agreed in our own reminiscences together that journalism and public service are much of the time lonely vocations.

In one of our discussions, we recalled that sainted Mother Teresa of Calcutta was once asked what she believed was the worst disease she had ever seen during her Sisters of Charity humanitarian work throughout the world, and her response had been, “Of all the diseases I have known, loneliness is the worst.”

Mother Teresa wrote in her book, “My Life for the Poor”: “I have come to realize more and more that the greatest disease and the greatest suffering is to be unwanted, unloved, uncared for, to be shunned by everybody, to be just nobody to no one.”

There is no doubt that our fast-paced, morals-free culture produces a plethora of lonely people everywhere –– people who are treated by others as throwaways, those who live alone with no one to care for or about them, with families that are either gone, uninterested, or too busy.

For such people, most days end coming home to an empty home or apartment and spending the evening alone, except perhaps for an occasional friendly visitor or the television.

Like any disease, Mother Teresa was saying, loneliness strikes at any stage in life, afflicting the rich and poor, young and old alike, making no exceptions even for the most celebrated or gifted people on earth.

In our fast-paced society where people are striving to acquire more things, they often find themselves with fewer meaningful relationships.

A recent survey at the University of Chicago revealed that the average urban dweller reaching adulthood can expect to spend 18.5 years of his or her life living in marriage with a spouse, 4.3 years living with someone to whom they are not married, and the rest of their lifetime living alone.

Reasons given include higher divorce rates and growing reluctance of young adults to make a commitment to marriage. Researchers concluded that cohabitation —living together — resulted in more jealousy and physical violence than found among married couples.

Mother Teresa’s testimony in her own lifetime was that our creator understands and offers assistance. She recalled that Jesus Christ spent much of his time with his disciples who rarely communicated on his level. When he became a man, he shared the full range of our feelings and emotions.

While holy scripture teaches that loneliness is not sin, we are told that it is part of our frailty as humans and can lead to bad behavior called sin if we let it get the better of us.

Christ himself taught, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28.) We know from scripture that we need to build and develop good and lasting family relationships.

Believers of all religious faiths who attended the service at Trinity Church to memorialize Sarah Greenhalgh were reminded in the several moving tributes to her energetic life with us that God did not intend for us to be lonely. His intention was that each of us live a life filled with rewarding relationships — the source of true happiness –– wanting us to have loving and appreciative relationships with our family members, encouraging and positive relationships with friends of like mind, and an ever-deepening experience of learning through religious belief and practice.

These are things that “polite society” and our present culture tell us to keep private. But the public outcome and reality of burying these truths are what we tragically bury today in the person of Sara Libbey Greenhalgh.

May the Lord God protect and preserve her loving soul and memory throughout eternity.

George Archibald is a resident of Berryville.