Virginia Sparling, a Unitarian minister, national PTA president and overall civic powerhouse, died of natural causes in her Methow Valley home at 87.

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Gerald Sparling had a joke about his wife of 61 years: Every time she got involved in something, she decided to pursue an advanced degree in it. And through a life that spanned more than eight decades, she accumulated a lot of degrees.

Virginia Sparling, a Unitarian minister, National Parent Teacher Association president and overall civic powerhouse, died of natural causes in her Methow Valley home on Feb. 23. She was 87.

She leaves behind a lifetime of positive works for various Washington communities, her husband said.

“One of her aphorisms was that service is the rent you pay for your space on Earth,” he said.

The couple, both from Central Arkansas, met in 1948 when they found themselves on opposing corners of a double date but quickly realized they were more interested in each other than their respective dates.

Then Virginia Mae Vaught, a hospital laboratory technologist three years his senior, she married Gerald Sparling on June 18, 1950 — the night he was accepted to medical school.

After his graduation, the pair spent the 1950s traveling through Texas, Utah and Germany as a result of his job as an Air Force doctor. Then they moved to Seattle, where he became a radiologist at Group Health Cooperative.

And she started stockpiling degrees.

First came a graduate degree in social work, which led Mrs. Sparling to the North Seattle Community Mental Health Clinic, where she established a youth crisis hotline.

Then came a master’s in education, which tied heavily into her PTA involvement — first at Seattle’s Seward Elementary School, then as president of the Washington State PTA and then as president of the National PTA, where she fought against the portrayal of violence on television long before it was popular to do so.

Finally came master’s and doctoral degrees in theology, which allowed her to serve as a minister for several small Unitarian fellowships throughout the Puget Sound area.

Mrs. Sparling also served on the national committee of the Unitarian-Universalist Association and as board president of the Confluence Gallery and Art Center in Twisp, Okanogan County, in addition to several other civic engagements.

“You’re talking about someone that volunteered at the state level and then went on to the national level as president of the national PTA and has never, ever given up the civic service,” said her older son, Gerald Sparling Jr., a 59-year-old computer-programmer analyst at the University of Washington.

“Even very, very late in her life, she was organizing things and driving things and doing the kinds of civic work that seems to be in short supply these days.”

Outside of those duties, Mrs. Sparling loved hiking, traveling and appreciating art, her husband said.

In addition to her husband and older son, Mrs. Sparling is survived by son Eugene Sparling, of New York City, and three grandchildren: Isaac Sparling, Nina Sparling and Joslyn Sparling. The family plans two late-spring services to honor her life, one at Bellevue’s East Shore Unitarian Church and the other in the Methow Valley.

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.