Just last year, Maude Josephine Walker stood in a banquet room at the Anchor Inn in Wheaton and graciously received flowers, tributes and mayoral proclamations for being the Woman of the Year of the L'Enfant chapter of the American Business Women's Association.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams congratulated her. So did former mayor Marion Barry, who praised her for investing "her life into the lives of many." Former mayor Walter Washington was too ill to attend the July 2003 event. Walker had served on educational committees during his administration and was instrumental in his life and political career, Washington told an ABWA leader.
Walker had spent nearly 20 years in the ABWA, serving as secretary, using her networking skills to bring in prominent speakers and mentoring young women with entrepreneurial ambitions. In many ways, she was the embodiment of the half-century-old association, which was started by Hilary A. Bufton Jr. in the post-World War II era to support women who had found fulfillment and empowerment in jobs outside the home during the war.
The 89-year-old Walker, who died Sept. 9 of complications after a car accident, joined the ABWA years after she had fought some of her own private battles. After she had gotten past a point in her life, said her daughter, Nadine V. Walker, when "she started believing she wasn't much."
Throughout her life, though, she always seemed to be in the business of helping people -- as a wife helping her husband build his medical practice, as a speech therapist with District elementary school students, as an usher and committee member of the historic 15th Street Presbyterian Church in Northwest Washington, and as a good friend who would drive other senior citizens on errands in her '96 red Ford Taurus.
"Mrs. Walker was always one of those people who was always doing for people, always behind the scene, always the quiet one," said family friend Angie Whitehurst.
Jean A. Mabry-Mobley, president of the L'Enfant chapter of ABWA, said Walker had sponsored some 30 people who became members of good standing in the local group. She was a candidate for a national honor in the organization with about 60,000 members. Not everyone was happy about her success, though, and she recognized that.
"There are always people in women's organizations who will resent other people because they don't know themselves," Mabry-Mobley said. But, she said, Walker remained unruffled by any mistreatment directed toward her, saying, "Oh that's just their way. I prayed on it."
Born Maude Josephine Todd in Lafayette, Ga., she was the third child of an itinerant Presbyterian preacher. She has been in Washington since she was 7. She lived most of her life in the shadows of her two older brothers and a younger sister in a family that emphasized education and accomplishment. After graduating from Dunbar High School in 1933, she wanted to go away to college as her two brothers had done, but couldn't because money was tight.
"Jo," as she was known, went to Howard University for a semester but had to drop out to work. In 1940, she graduated from Miners Teachers College and found employment as a key-punch operator for the U.S. Census Bureau. Stints as a kindergarten and a first-grade teacher in District schools and as a typist for the War Department followed.
In 1946, she married a handsome Army captain and a became a dutiful wife, eventually leaving the work world to raise their three children. After Claude G. Walker died in 1972, she began overseeing management of the Georgia Avenue medical building they owned and continued doing so until her daughter took over in 2000. Her inner strength helped her cope with the death of a son in 1975.
Through her sister, Victoria T. Street, who worked in the public schools, she became interested in speech therapy. She took a home study course and classes at Gallaudet College and Bowie State University. In 1971, she received a master's degree in adult education from Federal City College, now the University of the District of Columbia.
Dorothy Vaill, supervisory director of the District public schools' speech correction and hearing services, said Walker "brought with her much experience, not just speech experience but life experience."
Until she retired in 1981, Walker was assigned to five elementary schools, where she helped students improve their stuttering and other speech problems. "She often said to me she thought she had found her place, " Vaill said.
Over the years, Walker continued to find new places of success for herself. Her daughter said she kept a cutout of a saying by Norman Vincent Peale in her home: "To be successful is to be helpful, caring and constructive; to make everything and everyone you touch a little bit better. The best thing you have to give is yourself."