Long-time Georgia Family Connection Friend and Advocate Virginia Walker DiesPrint This Post
Virginia Walker, who served for a decade as Family Connection-Communities In Schools of Athens’ Empowerment Project director and Diversity coordinator, passed away Tuesday, July 31, at the age of 72.
“Our dear friend and former staff member has passed away,” said Tim Johnson, executive director of the Georgia Family Connection Collaborative. “She didn’t have much formal education, but she was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known.”
According to Johnson, when he asked Walker to get involved with Family Connection in the early 1990s, she asked right off for his organization’s budget. People talk about what their organizations do, but a budget tells you what an organization is actually doing, she told him. Johnson recalled that during Family Connection’s early days, Walker asked at a statewide meeting that brought together diverse public agencies and private partners why the families weren’t part of the discussion.
“I’m heartbroken, but at the same time also inspired by Ms. Virginia’s life which invigorates me to keep powering through to accomplish our mission,” said Georgia Family Connection Partnership Executive Director Gaye Smith. “This is a challenging time for our Clarke County Collaborative staff and partners, and the Athens community. She was much loved and will be much missed, but she taught us all well and we must pass it forward.”
Walker was one of the Four Matrons—along with Miriam Moore, Jessie Barnett, and Evelyn Neely—who Johnson described as leaders of the civil rights movement in Athens starting in the 1960s. Later she pushed successfully for a bridge across the North Oconee River to the black neighborhoods of east Athens.
“That was during a time when basic services such as sewer lines often didn’t make it over into black neighborhoods,” said Johnson. “So that bridge is a great metaphor for her work.”
Walker’s leadership in Model Cities was instrumental in creating the Athens Neighborhood Health Center, Family Counseling Service, and Athens Child Development. She also was a founding board member of Parents Across America—a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation initiative to expand the family engagement work.
Walker led a response to an incident in 1995 when Athens police shot and killed Edward Wright, a mentally disturbed man who had been running naked in an east Athens neighborhood. After Edwards’ death, Athens police established a community-oriented policing approach.
In addition to that, Walker led the redevelopment of the Iron Triangle—the commercial area there—and the rec fields, helped establish the Miriam Moore Community Center, created the East Athens Development Corporation and a community garden, and convinced Athens-Clarke leaders and voters to approve and build a public park in east Athens.
“Virginia was often getting folks mad at her,” said Johnson. “When people called on me to fire her, I always met with them, listened, and their concerns almost always convinced me of the opposite. She brought to our Collaborative table—and other tables—the voice of those who were too often left out. And she did, always speaking truth and wisdom, to our betterment. Hers was a unique and powerful spirit, and our community and beyond are better for her having passed this way. Please hold her family in your thoughts and prayers.”
Funeral services, handled by Winfrey Mutual Funeral Home, are set for 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, at Springfield Baptist Church in Athens.
The family is receiving visitors at the family home at 132 Water Oak St., Athens.
Read the Georgia Family Connection Partnership Resolution commending Virginia Walker for enriching the lives of children and families in Athens-Clarke County
GaFCP Communications Director
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