St. Johnian Wilma Marsh Monsanto is being remembered as a fierce advocate for Virgin Islanders, following her death Tuesday at age 78.
“She was born on East End, St. John, she was a full-fledged St. Johnian to the core,” daughter Lorelei Monsanto said Thursday.
“She actually lived out a life and fought for the rights of people,” and “was the first person to fight the park and win,” after waging a years-long legal battle against Virgin Islands National Park to reclaim ancestral land from the federal government, she said. “She fought the park back in the ‘80s and she won. She was the first person to do that in the Virgin Islands. So, she was a trailblazer, and she was true to form, in reference to saying, ‘If it’s not right, let’s move forward.’ ”
Married to Liston Monsanto Sr. for 60 years, Marsh Monsanto also had a son, Liston Jr., and a deep personal spirituality that didn’t tie her to any one form of faith.
“She was interdenominational, she went to anybody’s church,” and believed strongly that “God came to save us all so be open to understanding, and we all have a choice. And if God is willing, things will happen,” her daughter said.
Growing up, Lorelei Monsanto said that her mother “wasn’t easy, she demanded a lot, but she supported me in every endeavor,” and she taught her “to be strong, be resilient, and to challenge the status quo.”
Marsh Monsanto worked for the Education Department in the superintendent’s office before becoming an entrepreneur, and had a shoe store in Four Winds Plaza on St. Thomas and owned the restaurant Chateau Bordeaux on St. John, among other business ventures.
Never one to back down from a cause she believed in, Marsh Monsanto was a frequent political candidate who served on the Board of Elections and as a delegate to the 5th Constitutional Convention.
In recent years, Marsh Monsanto worked closely on elections issues with Diane Magras and Harriet Mercer, and the trio became known as “the Three M’s, probably since 2012, all the way back to when it was the old Board of Elections in Garden Street,” said Magras. “We saw a cause that we had a whole lot of passion about and we saw some things that we didn’t agree with, and we didn’t feel it was being to the best interest of the public and we just tried to do something about it.”
Magras added that “to me, she would try to fight a good fight and for a just cause. She believed in justice, and not just for one, for all.”
She was “like a mother to me,” Mercer said. “But she never allowed us to call her mom. She always wanted to be young,” she said, recalling her stories of professional modeling and her work as a boat captain.
Marsh Monsanto was “absolutely phenomenal in every way, it was a pleasure to know her and really have her as a mentor. To me she’s a living legend in the V.I. and she’ll never be gone to me,” Mercer said.