Joyce Norwood Walker’s death was dictated by her disease, but those around her said the strong woman of faith led her life refusing to give in to the genetic disorder.
“The disease did not affect her mentally,” the Rev. Thomas Walker recalled about his wife. “All of her loving personality, all of her humility and humorous moments were still there.”
The first lady of Ebenezer Baptist Church passed away Friday night after a 26-year battle with Olivopontocerebellar atrophy – the shrinking of the cerebellum.
The devoted mother of two, who was diagnosed in 1988, fought the debilitating impacts on her balance and speech for years but her condition had been weakening in recent years.
“Something so devastating can have an enormous psychological effect, changing someone’s moods and making them difficult to deal with, but I never recall her complaining from day one to the last day,” Thomas Walker said. “She never got into the ‘why me’ mentality. She always saw it as a bump in the road as she called on her favorite scripture, Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’”
Despite the disease claiming the lives of her father, her brother and other male family members, the minister’s wife earned a bachelor’s degree in education in the years surrounding her diagnosis and started the Ebenezer Baptist Church Child Care Center.
She strived to provide a Christ-centered academic experience for area youth and helped to mold thousands of youth in the process.
Eventually the center had to be closed, but the impact she had continues on.
“The Child Care Center was her legacy. She touched many, many lives,” Thomas Walker said. “As her condition got worse and I’d push her in the wheelchair through the market, we were often stopped as young people would thank her for teaching them or parents would talk about how she taught their children or grandchildren.
“That program truly was her love.”
It is fitting that her life was spent in service to God since the couple’s steadfast love was found in the sanctuary of the church as well. The 65-year-old man recalled meeting her for the first time.
“It was like an, ‘Oh, Jesus’ kind of thing,” he said. “She really impressed me. Something really drew me to her.”
They wed the year she graduated from high school and quickly settled into the roll of leading a church community.
“We ran into a couple who was having a hard time getting their feet on the ground, and we decided to give them most of our furniture,” Thomas Walker recalled. “I know some people that might put you out with the furniture if you make a decision like that, but she was not that kind of woman. Whatever we could do to help others, she was willing.
“She was an excellent partner and my best friend.”
The pastor said he is grateful for the outpouring of support from everyone – not only in the couple’s church – but throughout the Twin Counties, which was the couple’s lifelong home.
Visitation will be from 3 to 6 p.m. Friday at Ebenezer Baptist Church with a two-hour ceremony to follow. A homegoing celebration will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at The New Morning Star Church of Christ on South Glendale Avenue.
“She was an unusually sweet lady,” Thomas Walker recalled about the mother of two, grandmother of five and great-grandmother of two. “She had a giant personality. She was a beautiful person inside and out. She always looked for the best in people.”