Mary Christine James, 83, peacefully went to be with her Lord and Savior Thursday, April 18, 2019, while surrounded by family and dear friends. “Chris,” as she was affectionately known, was born Sept. 12, 1935, in Lester, West Virginia, to William and Thelma Harris. Chris was the second of nine children born to her coal miner father and homemaker mother.
Growing up, Chris excelled in both athletics and scholastics, eventually graduating second in her class from Trapp Hill High School. However, she was unable to afford college, and given the limited job opportunities in her hometown, she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and worked for Dow Chemical. It was in the Cleveland suburb of Elyria where she would meet her beloved husband of 58 years, Ernest.
Chris and Ernie spent the early years of their marriage running restaurants and diners in Greensboro, North Carolina, and Williamsburg before finally settling in Virginia Beach, where they both worked at Marty’s Lobster House and the Isle of Capri.
In 1964, Chris and Ernie were able to gather enough money to convert an old gas station and garage located at 33rd Street and Atlantic Avenue into what would become Peter Pan Cakes, a restaurant that would be part of the landscape of the Virginia Beach oceanfront for almost 26 years and recognized by tourists and locals alike by the iconic 32-foot Peter Pan that stood in the parking lot. Together, working side by side as equals, Chris and Ernie built Peter Pan Cakes into a successful restaurant that catered to the tourist crowds during the summer months and a strong contingent of locals who supported the restaurant throughout the remainder of the year.
Chris was responsible for running the front of the house at the restaurant, where she gave numerous high school and college students their first summer jobs with many returning year after year during their summer breaks from college. Chris was not just an employer but also served as a mentor to a lot of her staff with many of them affectionately referring to her as “Momma James” over the years due to the positive impact she had on their lives. With her outgoing personality, caring demeanor and infectious smile, Chris routinely engaged friends, family and customers with a warm “honey,” “sweetie,” or “baby.” When she finally got the opportunity to retire, Chris and Ernie were able to do some long-awaited traveling until she found her calling as “yia yia” to her granddaughters, Sofi and Olivia, who she considered the crown jewels of her life.
As a woman of faith, Chris was an active member of both the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Norfolk and St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, Virginia Beach. She was also a member of the Hellenic Women’s Club and Philoptochos Society.
She was preceded in death by her beloved husband, Ernest; and brother, Sonny.
She is survived by her daughter, Deborah James; sons, John James (Drew) and Andrew James (Tina); beloved granddaughters, Sofi and Olivia; seven siblings, Audrey Sadler (Eddie), Peggy Cowan (Dan), Donna Birkelbach (Charlie), Stacy Harris, James Harris (Barbara), Delmar Harris (Gwen) and Linda Butcher; sisters-in-law, Helen James and Mildred Christo; and numerous nieces, nephews, extended family and many wonderful friends.
The family would like to take this opportunity to thank the wonderful nurses and caregivers at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital CCU and ICU units for the kindness and compassion they showed our mother during her stay.
A Trisagion service will be held at 6:30 p.m., Monday, April 29, at H.D. Oliver Funeral Apts., 2002 Laskin Road, Virginia Beach. Funeral services will be conducted at 11 a.m., Tuesday, April 30, at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, 621 First Colonial Road, Virginia Beach. Please call St. Nicholas at 757-422-5600 or H.D. Oliver Funeral Apts. at 757-428-7880 with any questions.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Hellenic Women’s Club c/o Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 7220 Granby Street, Norfolk, VA 23505; or the Philoptochos Society c/o St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, 621 First Colonial Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23451.
Share online condolences with the family at H.D. Oliver Funeral Apts.