Those who knew Marilyn Walton knew they could always expect the phone call from her.
Calls of support. Calls of encouragement. Calls seeking opinions or information.
Walton, who retired in 2006 after more than 15 years as the Tacoma Public Schools point person on diversity issues, died last week. She was 67.
Friends and colleagues this week remembered Walton as an effective but diplomatic public servant, a gracious woman who cared deeply about all those she touched over the years.
A celebration of her life is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 25 at Mountain View Celebration of Life Center, 4100 Steilacoom Blvd. SW, Tacoma. The Rev. Gregory Christopher of Shiloh Baptist Church will officiate.
Lyle Quasim, a veteran of multiple community and government posts at both the state and local level, knew Walton and her husband Jim, Tacomas former city manager, for much of their life in Tacoma.
Throughout his public life, Quasim said, he was buoyed by Marilyn Waltons support.
When I was with Safe Streets, working on the problems of drugs, gangs and crime, Marilyn called and said Dont forget, youre not a kid anymore. You cant be out late at night, looking at drug houses.
When Quasim was fired as director of the states mental health agency, a Seattle newspaper ran a piece about his dismissal with the headline, Who dunnit?
Walton sent Quasim a T-shirt with the headlines words.
I had some difficult times in my political and bureaucratic career, Quasim said. Every time, Marilyn was there with a phone call.
Gayle Elijah, currently the school districts human resources director, was an officer in the Tacoma Education Association when she worked with Walton.
I always, always found her to be 100 percent a humans human, Elijah said. She was very fair-minded. And a brave woman.
Elijah said Walton suffered from chronic health problems and wasnt always feeling well at work. But even on difficult days, Elijah said, Walton was always fully engaged on the job.
Her work often focused on the thorny issue of race in public education.
Following a career in business as a human resources director, Walton joined the school district in 1989 as an affirmative action compliance coordinator. She retired in 2006 as assistant to the superintendent for equity and diversity.
My memories center not around framing my conversations around race, but about framing conversations about people, Elijah said. She really looked at the facts. She didnt pre-judge.
Minh-Anh Hodge, who currently directs early learning and English language learner programs for the school district, said Walton was a mentor.
Im Asian, and prior to coming to the Tacoma School District, I hadnt had a chance to work with the black community, Hodge said. She introduced me to black community leaders.
Hodge said Walton was focused on the issue of equity for all children.
She was wonderful, gracious and fair, said longtime Tacoma School Board member Debbie Winskill. She looked at things in a pragmatic way. People liked dealing with her. Even though she had to deal with difficult situations, there were never complaints about her.
Although Walton was best known for her role in the school district, she was involved in many segments of the community including with the Tacoma Urban League Guild, the Pierce County Alliance, the YMCA and Nativity House.
She was a member of the Tacoma Community College Board of Trustees for 11 years. A Japanese maple tree is planted in her honor on campus.
Elijah said she had been recently anticipating a Walton phone call.
I was just thinking about her, with the presidential election, she said. She liked to become as informed as she could about decisions she had to make. I was expecting a phone call from her.
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635