Calling Becky Massey a mere volunteer is a bit like calling Russell Wilson a mere football player. Like the Super Bowl-winning Wilson, Massey is one of the best.
When she takes on a mission, she gives it her all — whether it’s Maymont, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Massey Cancer Center or now the Richmond Christmas Mother Fund.
As the 2016 Richmond Christmas Mother, Massey will be the chief cheerleader and fundraiser — or what she sometimes calls “friend-raiser” — in the annual effort to provide gifts, food and goodwill to those in need at Christmas. Public appearances as Richmond Christmas Mother will include the tree-lighting celebration at 5 p.m. Nov. 28 at The Jefferson Hotel and riding in a carriage from Maymont in the Dominion Christmas Parade at 10 a.m. Dec. 3.
The holiday fundraising effort is sponsored by The Richmond Times-Dispatch, which absorbs the administrative costs. Evolving out of The Richmond News Leader’s Empty Stocking Fund and the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Good Fellow Club, its roots go back to 1935.
The largest single program is run by The Salvation Army Central Virginia, which gets a $150,000 grant from the Richmond Christmas Mother Fund to support its Christmas Distribution Center. The sign-up period for requesting aid through the Salvation Army has ended.
Through a partnership with The Community Foundation, the Christmas Mother Fund also awards $80,000 to $100,000 in grants to other organizations that have Christmas assistance programs, including other Christmas Mother programs in the region.
Massey, 66, grew up as one of eight children in Hallie, Ky., where her family was a mainstay of the small Appalachian community. Her parents were both teachers, her father eventually a school principal.
Nature was close at hand. Their self-sufficient farm was at the edge of a 400-acre virgin forest, now named Lilley Cornett Woods — after her grandfather — and operated as a field study program by Eastern Kentucky University.
“I think my parents set the example by being the go-to family in our community for everyone, whether it was filling out a job application, or taxes, or a funeral or whatever,” she said. “It was my parents that everybody came to. They were my example for volunteering.
“To me, it’s the old adage, you get in return what you give. I’ve always tried to give.”
She met and married Richmond native William E. Massey Jr. after he arrived in Martin County, Ky., to work in a coal mine that was part of his grandfather’s A.T. Massey Coal Co. She was an extension agent for the University of Kentucky, a job that she later continued with Virginia Tech.
“It was a very wholesome background, not a lot of travel, a very close-knit family, gatherings at the grandmother’s house on Sundays, lots of home cooking,” she said. “It was a little different coming to Richmond, I’ll say that. It was a big city for me.”
The Masseys raised three boys in a house on the James River below the Huguenot Bridge. When the children were grown and “no one was left to help during floods,” they built a more manageable house a few miles away on much higher ground.
“What was on this property was a stable for the house next door at one time. It was a tiny little thing that I impulsively bought when my husband was out of town, because I knew we needed to get off the river, although it was hard to do,” she said, sitting in a casual front room of the hand-cut stone house that took two years to build.
Living nearby in Henrico County, their son Travis, 42, and his wife, Luciana, are the parents of their only grandchild, 3-month-old, Magdalena. William E. Massey III, 41, lives in Richmond. Taylor, 39, lives in Carlsbad, Calif.
Her volunteer work started when the boys were small. The late D. Tennant Bryan, who was chairman of Media General Inc. when it owned the Richmond Times-Dispatch, stopped by to recruit her.
“He came in, and I had three little toddlers crawling all around on the floor,” she said. “He said, ‘I would like to talk with you about Maymont.’ I started out working with special events. Christmas Open House was my first event.”
Maymont also introduced her to fundraising, which became a constant in her volunteer work.
Most recently she was co-chair of the Research for Life campaign that raised $108.1 million for the Massey Cancer Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. In the previous decade, she was on the committee that raised more than $70 million in the Campaign for Massey to help fund the Goodwin Research Laboratory at the cancer center.
Her association with the Massey Cancer Center, which was named after her husband’s family because of its Massey Foundation support, reached another level after she was treated there for Paget’s disease, a rare type of cancer.
“‘An advocate with experience’ is how I describe myself,” she said. “Cancer is definitely a life changer. It makes you appreciate everything around you so much more.”
As a member of the VMFA Council, Massey served two years as gift shop manager during more than 15 years of volunteer activity. At the University of Richmond, she served three years on the board of trustees.
“If you put your name to it, you need to back it and do it,” she said to explain the degree of her commitment. “It’s just one of those things. I still feel guilty because I went through the Henrico Master Gardening program and I have never given enough back. I should be going out weeding or helping somebody do something.”
Goals for the Christmas Mother campaign may be more modest than the millions she raised for the Massey Cancer Center, but they’re also important, she said.
“It’s the one day of the year that our children really look forward to. It’s a time to both give and receive,” she said.
“Our children are infused with the spirit of Christmas. It’s a time of hope, a time of giving and sharing. It’s a family time. It’s important that we provide for our families that have needs.”
One new way that people will be able to support the Christmas Mother Fund is through buying a Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods Christmas Tree Coffee Cake at Martin’s Food Markets. Each purchase of a specially marked cake will result in a 50 cent donation to the fund, up to $2,500 in donations from sales of 5,000 cakes.
Massey said she’s “grateful and honored” to serve as the Richmond Christmas Mother.
“It’s a new adventure for me. It’s very inspiring. I’m very much a people person. I’m looking forward to sharing and meeting so many new people in the community. It’ll be fun. ...
“I’m just truly proud of the Richmond community, the generosity of our community. Together this Christmas season, we can do so much good.”