Alexis Walker, Jo Anne Leonard Petersen Chair in Gerontology and Family Sciences, died July 8 of chronic lymphoma. She was 60.
Walker was a beloved teacher and an award-winning scholar, mentor and adviser. She was co-director for the School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and was a faculty member at OSU for 26 years. She was known as a keen editor, an amazing baker, and a woman who was passionate about feminism, family and most of all, her students.
Kathy Greaves, senior instructor with the School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences, was first a student of Walker’s, and later a colleague.
“Alexis had an uncanny way of making everyone feel like they were the most important person and that their issue or concern was her issue or concern as well,” Greaves said. “Any time I went to talk to her about anything, I always came away feeling better about the issue - ALWAYS. As department chair, she could listen to faculty bicker about some issue and in one sentence she would bring clarity and closure to whatever it was that seemed so unsolvable.”
Tammy Bray, dean of the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, said Walker’s death caused her deep heartache, but she was glad that friends and family had the opportunity to tell her how much she meant to them before her passing.
“She fought so hard and was so courageous, and even though I knew this time was coming I am still in shock that she is gone,” Bray said. “Alexis has always been an inspiration for me. A trusted colleague who has helped to shape and lead the School of Biological and Population Health Sciences, she also was a valuable and motivating teacher and mentor to many, who are now leaders in their own right and who are using her as an example as they teach, research and mentor new generations of students”
Former student and current assistant professor at Portland State University Jana Meinhold said Walker was dazzling in her extensive knowledge and her organization.
“With guidance from Alexis, I learned a lot about myself as a student and researcher,” Meinhold said. “Alexis pushed me to think outside my social location and to be a stronger critical thinker in my teaching, research and writing. I strive to be the professional, colleague and mentor that Alexis was for me every day.”
Sheryl Thorburn was co-director, along with Walker, of the School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences. She was working alongside Walker before she passed away, and had the chance to see how hard she worked to make the school a better place.
“Some of the things I appreciated most about Alexis were her integrity and her commitment to transparency, fairness, and equity,” Thorburn said. “She was very principled and always wanted to do what was right – for people, HDFS, our school, and the college. She worked hard and identified creative solutions to help faculty and students succeed and programs to flourish despite limited resources. She was smart, but I was even more impressed by her wisdom. On the personal side, she was funny, kind, and compassionate. Every day, I looked forward to coming to work and felt so fortunate to know that my day would be shared with Alexis.”
While Walker struggled with lymphoma and with the effects of treating her illness, she never let it slow down her pace, even as the impact was becoming visibly apparent. Friend and colleague Leslie Richards has known Walker for 23 years, and shared both Ph.D student committees and holiday cookie baking duties with her.
“I’ve described her as the smartest person I’ve ever met,” Richards said. Walker had a gift for giving students and colleagues detailed feedback on their work, especially their writing, in a way that was both constructive and kind.
“She knew how to push but not so hard she crushed someone,” Richards said. “They were able to listen to her feedback and come back with a higher quality product.”
Richards said Walker was incredibly productive and always giving of her time.
“I never could figure out how she did all she did with the caliber of work she did,” Richards said. “She had four extra hours of the day somehow.”
Walker’s partner, Cindy Noble, created a Caring Bridge site for Walker during her last days. Nearly 800 people signed her guest book, and the site had more than 7,000 visits, as friends and colleagues offered words of support and love upon the news of her final days and her death on July 8.
Walker came to OSU in 1986, after teaching at the University of Oklahoma in Women’s Studies and in Human Development. Shc received her Ph.D in 1979 From Pennsylvania State University.
Walker took her role as chair as much to heart as she did all of her other activities. “Academic disciplines are a bit like people,” she said. “They have a lifespan and experience transitions. It’s good to stop and reflect on what we’ve done, what’s working, and what needs -tweaking.”
Walker’s most recent accolade was the Felix Berardo Scholarship Award for Mentoring from the National Council on Family Relations. Many of her former students could attest to Walker’s strength as a mentor and role model.
“I feel like Alexis forged my spirit of hard work and helped me to celebrate the small achievements with an eye always on the big picture,” said former student Cheryl Peters, who is now a program evaluation specialist at Michigan State University Extension.
Walker served as editor of the Journal of Marriage and Family from 2002-2007 and on the editorial board of Family Theory & Review. She also participated on numerous committees and professional organizations.
Walker is survived by her partner, Cindy Noble, siblings Bill and Diane Walker, Patrick Walker, Carla (Marshall) Krieman, Robert and Cathy Walker, and her mother, Lois Walker.
She was preceded in death by her father, Bernard Walker, and a sister, Kathryn Kazaros. A memorial service will be held on campus this fall. Donations can be made in her name to the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library or the Leukemia/Lymphoma Foundation.
For more quotes from Walker’s colleagues: http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ncs/lifeatosu/2012/colleagues-remember-alexis-walker/
To learn more visit http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/alexiswalker