One of the area’s most popular bartender/waiters completed her last shift at Houlihans, the restaurant on Rt. 522 a few miles north of Front Royal, on Sunday, August 13, the fond farewells from customers literally following her out the door.
It was a long goodbye for Tonya Withers who joined her customers on their side of the bar last Thursday, her regular day off, and said her goodbyes to others who dropped by through the weekend to wish her well as she prepared to leave for a new home in Tampa, Florida, early Monday morning.
“I was humbled,” she said of the scores of people who stopped by the restaurant. “There were so many of them … people I’d come to know as friends … you all WERE my friends,” Tonya told me in an interview, “and I was so humbled, so grateful.”
Tonya was among the first staff to be hired at Houlihans when the commercial complex also including the Holiday Inn opened in Warren County nine years ago. She brought an always welcoming smile and rarely missing a shift. Meanwhile, on her days off, the attractive and petite mother of two “almost adult” children, worked two other jobs, one waiting tables at the old Element restaurant on South Royal Avenue on Saturday nights; the other taking care of horses at her mother, Donna Hayes’s Avonlea Farm, at White Post.
Horse stories abounded at her table of friends last week. Sarah Keating and Mary Long, particularly, told tales of Tonya’s Thoroughbred horse racing syndicate which, 10 years ago, consisted of 17 women. The racing partnership was called the “Tuesday Tea Club” and never won a race. “But we had the greatest times,” Sarah said, and the three women laughed at their memories of the race track.
Donna Hayes still has horses at Avonlea, which she moved to from Middleburg in 2000, but is scaling down. Meanwhile, Tonya is seeking homes for several of hers (contact her on Facebook if interested).
Tonya travels to Tampa with her daughter, Morgan,18, who later this month enters the University of Florida on a scholarship and ultimately looks forward, perhaps, to medical school. Tonya’s son already is in college.
So, with everyone who came to know and appreciate her zest for serving her public long and well and who she regarded as her friends, we raise a final glass to Tonya Withers, wishing her well in her new home in the Sunshine State.