Virginia Tea Society
Steeped in Tradition
“The Virginia Tea Society is dedicated to the ongoing education about the history of tea, its cultural importance, the art of presentation, etiquette and other related topics. Together we celebrate friendship, social enjoyments, culinary delights, and educational presentations in the graceful tradition of afternoon tea.”
Composed by Sandra Brown, featuring interviews with Charter Members Betty Reil, Patty Flowers, Jo Ann Armstead, Roberta Grater, Scotty Buchanan, Barbara Wagner and others including Tonya Jones, Gina Lane and Diana Barnett.
Connie Lue, Founder of the Virginia Tea Society
The Virginia Tea Society has an auspicious history and one that we continue to be proud of. Our history begins in 2001 when a Virginia Beach School system bus driver, Connie Lue, was volunteered by her husband, Rex, to teach classes about afternoon tea for the Virginia Beach Adult Learning Center. As a result, Connie and her husband, Rex, fulfilled a lifelong dream to travel internationally and in 2001, they went to London. In 2001, Google, websites and MapQuest did not exist but Connie, the consummate networker, was able to arrange for a private, day-long tutorial about tea with the esteemed tea expert, Jane Pettigrew. Out of that meeting a friendship between Connie and Jane was born and the knowledge and expertise to teach the classes were formed and cultivated. Thanks to their relationship, this is how we managed to get one of the world’s tea experts to travel across the pond to give us lessons about tea in 2002. This was and is a big deal and one that astounds people in the tea world even today!
Connie Lue (L) & Jane Pettigrew (R)
Everyone knew Connie Lue. Tonya Jones, current Board and early member, shared that at her attendance at the World Tea Expo East in Philadelphia in September 2011 when she was introduced to John Harney, Bruce Richardson, James Norwood Pratt and Jane Pettigrew— they all knew exactly who Connie Lue and the Virginia Tea Society were. Gina Lane, former Director, recalls: “Connie had contacted John Harney, Jane Pettigrew, and James Norwood Pratt to inform them that I was attending the WTE East, and for them to expect me to introduce myself. I invited Tonya Jones to join me on this road trip. With Connie’s notoriety in the world of tea, Tonya and I were honored with both being able to personally meet with whom I call “modern- day tea greats” and spend extra time conversing with them at the Expo. I had previously met Bruce and Shelley Richardson in August 2009. I visited Connie in North Carolina on several occasions, and on one visit she called John Harney directly and just handed me the phone. I was so excited to speak with him, the first of several conversations.”
Gina Lane, John Harney & Tonya Jones at the World Tea Expo
Connie created two tea classes: An Introductory class “Let’s Have an Afternoon Tea Party,” then an advanced class. Classes were extensive and met for ten hours (five 2-hour days) and then eventually over a 2-week period. Gloves were used in the earliest teas. Assignments were given out regarding the menu and ladies were instructed to shop and then prepare their contribution for the tea. Betty Reil and JoAnn Armistead (current Virginia Tea Society members) attended the second class at the Adult Learning Center. At some point after that class, Connie asked if the participants were interested in creating a tea group; and thus what became the Virginia Tea Society was formed by the participants of the first and second classes.
Connie eventually connected with Belinda Nash, a Virginia Beach resident who was passionate about saving and preserving the Ferry Plantation House. Teas were held at the Ferry Plantation House where there was a tiny kitchen “lacking a stove or air conditioning and many, many steps from the kitchen to the storage area upstairs.” After tea, cake and sherry were served. Alcohol was not permitted at the Adult Learning Center. Our member, Patty Flowers, recalls her contribution was a Friend’s Cake with sugared pansies of which Connie gave her finest approval. To earn Connie’s favor was a big deal as she was quite meticulous! Connie’s favorite part of the tea was “time for gossip!” which took place during the cake and sherry time and was quite the tradition at that time. At this time, the Tea Society was called the Historic Ferry Plantation House Tea Society.
In September 2003, Jane Pettigrew and John Harney, founder of Harney & Sons Tea, gave lectures about the art of tea, types of tea, and health benefits of tea. The tea society also had Dorothea Johnson (Director of the Protocol School of Washington) visit in November 2004 to give us lessons about etiquette in international circles and business etiquette. The focus on the tea society at that time was educating the members, learning from the contemporary experts in the tea world and using this knowledge to benefit others through our love of afternoon tea. We suspect that no other tea society in the country has the auspicious “beginnings” and foundation based on experts in their field like what is now the Virginia Tea Society.
The Tea Class – Connie Lue, 2nd from left, Jane Pettigrew, 4th from left and beside her John Harney. Can you spot founding members Scotty Buchanan, Norma Barbosa, Betty Reil, Jo Ann Armstead and Patty Flowers?
John Harney & Jane Pettigrew
The then smaller-in-number tea society was highly active. They hosted a fundraiser called “Alice in Wonderland Tea” for Ferry Plantation House, hosted teas for nursing home residents (known as “Tea Across America”) which was founded by a husband in honor of his tea enthusiast wife who died in one of the 9/11 attacks. The last “Tea Across America” was planned by Gina Lane in 2012 or 2013. The early tea society did a “Cat in the Hat” and “Madhatter” teas for children. Rex Lue performed a Japanese Tea Ceremony for them. Jane Pettigrew was stranded at Diana Barnett’s house because of Hurricane Isabelle (worse things could happen to a tea enthusiast!). In honor of Dorothea Johnson’s visit, then-Virginia Beach Mayor Meyera Oberndorf signed a proclamation in her honor in November 2004. Additionally, the tea society traveled for tea experiences found at the Smithfield Inn, Richmond’s Jefferson Hotel, Williamsburg, etc. Our current afternoon tea designs with planning to include the menu, décor, theme, etc., did not start until Gina Lane was Director and our membership grew too large to be a traveling tea group.
Diana Barnett, the creator of our first bylaws, shares early memories. “I remember the early days and the hours spent without any specific guidance trying to write bylaws because I was the one with 19 years of training in parliamentary procedure! The bylaws are based on “Robert’s Rule of Order.” Our first treasurer, Norma Barbosa, slept with the dues money because we did not have a bank account.”
Because of our amazing history, we continue to honor our traditions, legacy, history, and the pleasure of afternoon tea.
Jo Ellen Watson: 2001-2002
Scotty Buchanan: 2002-2003
Jo Ellen Watson: 2004-2005
Kim Gilkerson: September 2005 – August 2007
Aurora Livingston: September 2007 – December 2009
Carol Anderson: 2010 - June 2011 (Carol moved and was unable to complete her term of office).
Gina Lane: 2011 - 2018 (Acting director from June 2011 – December 2012, then Director 2012 – March 2018). Gina is a Certified Tea Professional, Tea Sommelier, and Tea Health Expert.
Diane Warth (L) and Gina Lane (R) at golf-themed tea.
Diane Warth: (Acting Director March 2018 – December 2019, then Director, 2019 – Present). Diane deserves a special acclamation because of her leadership through the COVID-19 crisis which began in March 2020. Her ingenuity and creativity kept VTS members engaged, entertained and enthusiastic about our organization with virtual gatherings through ZOOM. Without her leadership, our institution may have disintegrated. We met online and had prize drawings, played Bingo and Jeopardy, and even had a baby picture contest. We held virtual presentations on Ireland, the 100th Anniversary of the Suffrage Movement, and Tablescapes for the Seasons. We managed to have a Secret Santa Exchange and sent Christmas cards and tea- related magnets to members during COVID-19.
Diane Warth inspired by Audrey Hepburn at Tea at Tiffany’s
Founding Members still active in
VTS as of July 2021
Jo Ann Armistead
2021 Board of Directors L-R: Diane Warth, Director; Sandra Brown, Secretary; Tiffany Model; Tonya Jones, Treasurer; Barbara Hughes, Asst. Director; and Glenda Gray, Member at Large
Connie was preceded in death by her husband, Rex, in 2010. Connie passed away in 2016 in Oxford, North Carolina.
Thank you, Connie and Rex Lue!
Your creation is “steeped in tradition” and going strong!
If you wish to download a PDF copy of this page and print it out, click on the link below...
Jan 25, 23 05:47 AM
Jan 15, 23 04:02 AM
Nov 30, 22 07:35 AM