The daughter of Anne Kielty Needham and the late Robert William Needham, Vicki was a caring daughter, attentive big sister, loyal friend, and surrogate aunt to a passel of lucky kids over the years, including Bryce, Seneca, Amelia, Alexander, Liam and Sarah.
Vicki loved children, and they were drawn to the way she got them as individuals, the fun they had together, their shared mischief, and her not-always-typically-adult priorities. When Vicki was late to a birthday party -- her own -- about a decade ago, several kids waiting for cake came up with a chant that stuck: “There’s time, and there’s Vicki time.” (After lighting the candles, they also discovered it works nicely to the tune of: “Happy Birthday to You.”)
Vicki always made space for furry creatures, too. Hiking Great Falls, you knew to factor in time for the stop-and-pet for every “handsome” lab, Chihuahua, poodle or pit that crossed her path. No question Vicki was a dog person, but her many cats -- from Balto to Max, Cal to Carter and Murphy -- wouldn’t let her go there.
Vicki lived life on her own schedule, as much as possible. And her interests were varied, from politics to food, photography to live productions. But sports was always high on the list: playing softball since she was a girl in DeKalb County, Ga.; covering everything from Hilton Head Prep soccer to PGA golf; rooting for the snakebit Falcons and Braves.
Hiker, cyclist, snowshoer, hammock camper and whitewater rafter, Vicki lived outdoors when the weather was right, and sometimes when it wasn’t. The lawn at Wolf Trap on a late summer night with the girls, a cooler of interesting IPAs or her latest wine discovery, was a good reason to live in nearby Reston.
The farmer’s market was another, the last in a lifelong string of not-her-actual-jobs that Vicki adopted because of the people, the vibe, the challenge (teaching kids to swim), the view (leading sunset sea kayak tours in the Carolina salt marsh), sometimes the pocket change.
Her real job was reporter, always reporter, and probably long before her business card said so. Curious, inquisitive, chatty, interested, honest, scrupulous and talented, Vicki was drawn to the action, to people and their stories, and to the challenge of learning and sharing the truth. On deadline and around the clock, from Congressional Quarterly to the Island Packet, the Orange County Register to Roll Call, and for the last nine years, The Hill.
Vicki also was navigating cancer over the last couple of years, which she approached with the same attentiveness, innate skepticism and search for answers. It was a journey she shared on a Facebook blog she authored: Vicki is Mad as a Swatted Hornet.
To read it is to understand that Vicki was as much participant as patient. She worked at her own treatment, reading and researching and expecting the same from doctors, asking tough questions and accepting difficult answers, just as long as her follow-up questions were taken seriously.
Vicki knew exactly what was on the line from Day 1, even if she didn’t talk about it.
And to the degree she could control, Vicki wrote her own story, and perhaps left a few chapters for others. Two summers ago, an oncologist told her she couldn't raft the Grand Canyon -- and climb out -- a month after chemo. He was wrong; he also later told Vicki she changed how he dealt with his patients.
Reporters make a living asking why, and Vicki did, too. But rarely, why me. She chose to focus on solving the puzzle that was her individual health. Vicki was still asking questions and seeking answers when the cancer in her body overwhelmed her heart. For those who knew and loved Vicki, that was no small doing.
Vicki Needham died on March 25, 2019. She was 50.
Vicki's brother, Chris, is hosting a "Celebration of Life" on Sunday, April 14, from 1-5 p.m. at Auld Shebeen restaurant in Fairfax. It’s on Masters Sunday at an Irish Pub: Vicki would certainly want you there.