Old Presbyterian Meeting House

Remembering Jean Robertson Elliot (1901-1999): a Poetic Journey Through Alexandria, Virginia

Early Life and Formation

Born on July 12, 1901, in Yonkers, New York, Jean Pirnie Robertson’s life would be defined by her adventurous spirit and unwavering passion for poetry. Her early years were marked by tragedy, losing her mother to typhoid fever when she was nine. The Robertson family moved to Bronxville, New York, where Jean’s love for learning and creativity began to flourish.

Capturing the Essence: Jean Elliot in the 1940s

Seeking Inspiration in the South

After attending schools in Bronxville, Jean sought a change of scenery for her final years of secondary education. She found herself at the Fassifern School in Hendersonville, North Carolina, where her free-spirited nature continued to thrive. Graduating as the class valedictorian, she excelled academically and discovered a love for tennis.

In 1929, Jean married Robert Sherrard “Sherrie” Elliot Jr., and together, they embarked on a journey that would lead them to Alexandria, Virginia. Despite the financial turmoil that gripped the nation during their honeymoon in Europe, their bond remained strong. A banking and financial services professional, Sherrie would eventually become executive vice president of International Bank and Financial General Bankshares, Inc. in Washington, D.C.

Embracing Alexandria: A Love Affair with History and Poetry

Writing Poetic Legacies

In the 1930s, Jean’s writing took a poetic turn, and her passion for supporting fellow poets grew. She dedicated herself to mentoring, reviewing, and organizing poetry-related events. Her impact on the poetic community was evident as several poets dedicated their works to her.

Local History and Community Engagement

Moving to Alexandria in 1960, Jean and Sherrie embraced the city and became integral community members. Jean’s enthusiasm for local history led her to lead seminars on the topic and to contribute articles for newspapers and historical societies. Her profound impact on the city’s cultural fabric earned her the title of “Poet Laureate” of Virginia and “Poet in Residence” of Alexandria.

Legacy and Commemoration

BRIO: A Symbol of Artistic Dedication

In addition to their generous contributions to the community, Sherrie and Jean Elliot also played a pivotal role in enhancing Alexandria’s artistic landscape. Market Square, a central hub of Alexandria, saw a transformative addition in the form of the sculpture “BRIO.” Created by artist Jimilu Mason, this captivating sculpture was presented to the City of Alexandria on April 2, 1983. It was a gift from the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association, made possible through a grant from Mr. and Mrs. R. Sherrard Elliott, Jr. “BRIO” stands as a symbol of artistic dedication, enriching the visual and cultural experiences of the city’s residents and visitors alike.

The “BRIO” Sculpture: A Gift to Alexandria’s Artistic Legacy
Crafted by renowned artist Jimilu Mason, the mesmerizing “BRIO” sculpture graced the heart of Alexandria when it was presented to the city on April 2, 1983. A generous contribution from the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association made this striking sculpture possible through the gracious support of Mr. and Mrs. R. Sherrard Elliott, Jr. through a grant from Mr. and Mrs. R. Sherrard Elliott, Jr.

Elliot House: A Living Memorial

In a gesture of generosity, Sherrie and Jean donated their residence at 323 South Fairfax Street to the Meeting House congregation. Renamed “Elliot House,” this space became a hub of community activities, meetings, and offices for the church, memorializing their legacy.

This standalone two-story home is a refreshing deviation from the traditional townhouses of Alexandria’s early streets. Acquired by Charles B. Ulrah in 1844 for $620 from Thomas Smith, land tax records suggest that Unruh had already built and occupied this house by 1842. Its entrance boasts a wrought-iron stairway, admired for its airy elegance and simplicity. Given Unrah’s background as an Alexandria blacksmith, the meticulously hand-forged railings could be his craftsmanship from his workshop at Duke and Union.

Enduring Impact

Jean Pirnie Robertson Elliot passed away in Alexandria on September 12, 1999. Her contributions to Alexandria’s cultural and historical tapestry continue to be celebrated. Her poems, commitment to fostering creativity, and dedication to local history leave an indelible mark on the city she loved.

As we look back on the life of Jean Robertson Elliot, we’re reminded of the power of a free spirit, the impact of unwavering passion, and the beauty of embracing a community with open arms. Alexandria, Virginia, holds a special place in this narrative, as it became the canvas upon which Jean painted her life’s most meaningful chapters.

She is buried with her husband, Sherrie, at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.

Source of Information

Dahmann, Donald C. “JEAN ROBERTSON ELLIOT  (1901 – 1999)” Personal communication. August 2023.

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By David

Hello. With a passion for bringing history to life, I serve my community as a public historian and cemetery superintendent. My journey has led me to own businesses, conduct Civil War battlefield tours and research Alexandria’s cemeteries.

Since 2015, I have had the privilege of serving as Superintendent of the historic Presbyterian Cemetery and Columbarium, located within Alexandria's Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex. The Presbyterian Cemetery has close ties to the Old Presbyterian Meeting House, situated one mile east, where my family has worshipped for two generations. My parents are laid to rest in this cemetery, which holds a special place in my heart.

Most weekends, you can find me leading tours of the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex, where thirteen cemeteries are located, with over 35,000 buried. Considered one of the most historic cluster of cemeteries in the United States, I weave my enthusiasm for teaching with the stories of those interred there. I also manage a blog focused on all the cemeteries in Alexandria where the many souls buried across the city are memorialized.

In addition, I'm an active Board Member of both the Alexandria Historical Society and Lee-Fendall House Museum. As part of the Northern Virginia Cemetery Consortium, I diligently preserve endangered burial sites throughout the region.

If Alexandria’s history captivates you, I invite you to join one of my cemetery tours, read my blog on memorializing souls buried across the city’s cemeteries, or connect with me on social media. I find joy and purpose in bringing Alexandria’s rich past to life and serving my community.

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