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Profiles in Leadership: Debbie Walker - in Memoriam

I lost a dear friend yesterday.

Debbie and I met at church, and as our husbands became good friends she and I discovered a kinship that surpassed almost all others. She understood me in ways that few do and I respected her thoughts and opinions so much, relying on her counsel many times through the years.

I have spent much of the last 24 hours thinking about Debbie and what I valued and appreciated about her. And as I reflect on her gifts is occurs to me that they are also key attributes for the most effective leaders.

Debbie had her Masters and served as a Learning Specialist in elementary schools for many years. I can think of no better tribute to her than to share the lessons I learned from her in service to others.

Listening Without Judgment

This may be the attribute I most appreciated about Debbie. She had a remarkable ability to listen and let you know you had been heard WITHOUT making you feel judged. And while those of us who knew her well had a pretty good idea of where she stood on issues, Debbie never let her personal feelings interfere with helping others. This is perhaps best explained by her deep and unwavering Christian faith, always leading with love.

Imagine how your relationships would change if your friends, family, employees, and coworkers knew they could talk with you about anything without fear of being judged?

Speaking Truth with Compassion

Debbie had remarkable self control; she rarely offered an unsolicited opinion. At times when I questioned myself and how I might be feeling or perceiving a situation I relied on Debbie to either validate my thoughts or help me course correct. Let me be clear - Debbie did NOT sugar coat truth! When I asked for her input I knew she would give it to me straight. I also knew that she would never be intentionally hurtful or unkind. Again, everything came from love with Debbie. So even when I did not like what I heard, I accepted it as it was offered.

Imagine how your relationships would change if your friends, family, employees, and coworkers knew that you conveyed truth to them out of love and compassion?

Family is Not Determined by Bloodlines

Debbie and her husband Bill hosted a Monday Night "Family Supper" at their home for many years, curtailed now due to the pandemic. Everyone was welcome! The regulars included their kids and grandkids, church members, neighbors, friends, business associates, and anyone without a place to be for dinner that night. It was a time for fellowship, connections, and being part of a loving and supportive group. Controversial topics were to be left at the door, and I know of at least two instances where people showed up sporting hats or shirts with political messages and were invited to take them off prior to entering. Debbie hailed from Texas..... no one messed with Debbie!

Every Monday around 5:00 people started wandering in, and some nights there were 15-20 adults and even more kids! There was lots of noise, happy sounds of people enjoying each other. Differences were left on the doorstep and for a few hours each week the focus was on loving and appreciating our neighbors.

Imagine how your households and offices would change if your friends, family, employees, and coworkers knew that they were welcome without condition, and would be treated with respect and grace as part of a loving family?

Lifelong Learning

For as long as I have known her Debbie was an active participant in her grandchildren's education. She put all her learning specialist tools to use, holding weekly homework sessions with the older kids. This was great on multiple levels: Debbie built relationships with the kids; they received dedicated and skilled coaching to enable and enrich their learning; and the parents had loving support.

The kids loved their time with MeeMaw (again, this is a Texas thing I think!) and I attribute this to a few factors:

  • Debbie was clear with expectations - snack, then homework, then play time! In that order. Every time.

  • Debbie enabled learning in ways that worked for each child. Kinethetic learners were given tactile ways to learn. High energy kids could jump, dance, and sing their way through lessons. As long as they were learning, any method was fair game!

  • Debbie listened as intently to her little ones as she did to adults.

  • Debbie insisted on, and equally gave, respect.

  • Debbie was tuned in to each child; when things were not going well she took a step back, asked some questions to understand what was happening, and then redirected.

Debbie was most gracious with her time and experience, helping me craft a plan for my own Grammy School over this summer. My Grands, my Daughter and Son-in-Law, and I are all so very grateful!

Imagine how your households and offices would change if your friends, family, employees, and coworkers received clear expectations; were engaged with in ways that worked best for them; were listened to intently; received respect as the norm; and participated in the process of course correcting when things were not going well?

Debbie was a wife, mother, MeeMaw, friend, and companion to so many. And while she did not have an "official" title she was every bit an inspirational leader. I am blessed, grateful, and forever changed by you. Rest in peace.

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