‘Times a-Wasting’: A Life

Avis Waring, who served in Occupied Japan and wrote economic reports for the CIA, died Monday (Jan. 11) of complications from Covid-19 at the Borden Center, Lexington, Va. The illness had been diagnosed on her 100th birthday two weeks earlier.

Avis in Narnia (through the wardrobe at the Bellfry)

An Oregon native with a master’s degree in economics from Cambridge University, Waring had moved from Florida to Lexington in 2010 to be near her daughter Libby Waring Cumming.

Reflecting in a 2008 memoir on all she had accomplished in life, she credited the work ethic taught by her parents in Oregon, especially during the Great Depression. Two of her mother’s sayings were “Time’s a-wasting” and “If you have a job to do, jump right in and do it,” Waring wrote.

“And she also believed and impressed on me that a woman should not marry until she had the travels and education she wanted and needed to support herself and the children in case anything happened to her husband.”

Avis Bessie Pick Waring was born Dec. 29, 1920, in an eastern Oregon farmhouse, the second of eight children of William M. and Sarah Bessie Pick. She was married to Ronald F. Waring for 50 years until his death in 2002.

With the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Avis Pick’s life changed. She was transferring from Willamette University to the University of Washington with plans to pursue library science. After Dec. 7, 1941, she jumped right into studying the Japanese language instead. Professors who were Japanese emigrés were sent to internment camps, so her teachers were their replacements.

During the war, Avis became a Navy officer with the WAVES in Washington D.C. While she and her WAVES friends spent time translating flight manuals of Japanese war planes, a few decided to learn to fly. Together they bought a plane, took lessons, and enjoyed flying in their spare time.

She spent three years in Occupied Japan with the U.S. government. In 1951, after two years of studies at Cambridge and grand tours of Europe, she returned to Oregon and married Ron Waring. They spent two years in Guatemala, both working various jobs. Avis taught English and worked for the Bank of Guatemala, writing reports on agriculture and trade.

It was an interesting subject at that time, she wrote, because the Communist government was confiscating the privately-owned banana, coffee, and wheat plantations to give the land to the peasants. “I was able to show that the production and exports were declining, although the cause of the decline at that point could have been partially due to turmoil and uncertainty in the countryside.”

They left Guatemala in May 1954 with their three-month-old daughter, Rhonda, during street riots as the Communist government was being overthrown.

Avis and Ron Waring moved to Washington D.C. in 1955 and both worked for the federal government until reaching retirement age in the late 1970s. As an agricultural analyst at the CIA, Avis traveled widely, under “State Department” cover, and wrote economic reports on countries of vital U.S. interest, such as China, India and Brazil. Her report on the food grain outlook in India in 1974 prompted then-U.S. ambassador to India Daniel Patrick Moynihan to write CIA director William Colby of his “total admiration” for the study. “Underlings keep stealing my copy,” Moynihan wrote.

Under high pressure and short deadlines, she was diverted from her field of agricultural economy at one point during the Vietnam War to identify transportation routes the Vietcong used to move arms.

In 1980, the Warings moved to Merritt Island, Fla., for new careers that lasted another 20 years. Avis helped Ron develop a small subdivision, laying out a Waring Way and its cul de sacs, and became a successful Realtor. Ron died Jan. 20, 2002.

Avis moved to into an independent living apartment at Kendal in 2010. She had been at Borden for the past two years.

She was a generous benefactor to her colleges—Willamette University and Newnham College (Cambridge University)—and in Lexington, to Grace Episcopal Church and two departments at Washington and Lee University. The Waring-Alnutt Award is given yearly for excellence in editing to a journalism graduate (in memory of Ron Waring) and the Avis P. Waring Scholarship is awarded to a physics and engineering student for connecting studies with service or pre-professional experience.

Avis made friends wherever she lived and kept in touch with them across the years. She traveled light, but treasured beautiful souvenirs of her world-traveling life, such as a 1932 silk-covered anthology of Japanese haiku. A poem in it by Matsuo Basho seems to evoke her experience of both Tokyo and Washington D.C. in April, “Ah! The cherry-blossoms/ Have brought many memories back.”

She was the last of the eight Pick children to survive. She leaves two daughters, Rhonda (Don) Judson, of Salem, Ore., and Elizabeth “Libby” (Doug) Cumming of Lexington; five grandchildren, Don Jr. (Kimberly) and Chris (Lisa) Judson, and Daniel, William (Alyssa) and Sarah Rose Cumming; and six great-grandchildren, Claudia, Andy, Ian, Penelope and Westley Judson, and Avis Magnolia Cumming.

About Doug Cumming

Writer, W&L journalism professor emeritus
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