Virginia Hollis Hand was born on February 21, 1900 as the daughter of Judson Larrabee Hand and Florence Hollis Hand. She grew up in Pelham, GA, where her father owned the J. L. Hand Trading Company, a mercantile business that remained in the family until 1984. Virginia lived with her parents, brothers, and sisters in a large, rambling house. Her love of plants started here as she helped grow Camellias and other flowers. This fascination with plants would have a significant impact later in her life. She was raised in fine Southern tradition and attended the Lucy Cobb School in Athens, GA, and Merrill School in Mamaroneck, NY.
While attending a party in Atlanta, Virginia met a young man recently home from the Navy named Cason Jewell Callaway. Cason, taken by Virginia’s beauty and charm, later asked Virginia to be his wife, and the couple were married in Pelham on April 3, 1920. Cason and Virginia settled in LaGrange, GA, where Cason was deeply involved in running the family’s cotton mills. They had three children, Virginia (“Jinks”) in 1921, Cason (“Caso”) Jr. in 1924, and Howard (“Bo”) in 1927.
For many years to follow, Virginia busied herself with duties as a wife and mother. After Cason’s retirement from the mills, the family moved to their weekend retreat at Blue Springs, near Hamilton, GA
With a mind for philanthropy, Virginia was involved in many endeavors, most of them focused on financial aid for the education of children and families. She was active in the Red Cross and initiated Red Cross swimming classes for area children at her Blue Springs pool. She frequently sponsored children at summer camps.
Cason had purchased thousands of acres of land in the area, and Cason and Virginia eventually decided to build a garden of incessant beauty to share with the world. This was an opportunity for her interest in botany to bloom. She was an active partner with Cason in planning and guiding the development of the Gardens and put much of her efforts into the horticultural side of the Gardens. Under her direction, azaleas and other native plants from the nurseries at Blue Springs were used to enhance the lakeside drive through the Gardens.
Virginia and Cason opened the Gardens to the public on May 20, 1952, and they worked together on it until his death in 1961. Following his death, she succeeded him as Chairman of the Board of the Ida Cason Callaway Foundation. In 1971, she founded the Cason J. Callaway Memorial Forest, preserving 3,000 acres of woodlands on the Pine Mountain Ridge that continue to serve as a conservation education site.
Virginia Callaway was recognized with many awards during her lifetime, including the Georgia Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Educator of the Year Award (1974), the Garden Club of America’s Margaret Douglas Conservation Medal (1979), and the American Horticulture Society’s Catherine H. Sweeney Award (1988). She lived at Blue Springs until her death on February 11, 1995.