Dollie Walker-Thomas, 89, broke race barriers, promoted heritage

November 02, 1997|By Karen Masterson | Karen Masterson,SUN STAFF

Dollie Walker-Thomas, who spent her life breaking down racial barriers, promoting African heritage and encouraging sex education, died Tuesday at Northwest Hospital Center in Randallstown. She was 89 and suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

Born Dollie Rosemand in Abbeville, S.C., she moved to Baltimore after her graduation in 1939 from the University of Iowa, where she met her future husband, Dr. Alexander J. Walker. They were married for 41 years until his death in the early 1980s. He was former chairman of Morgan State University's political science department.

According to relatives and friends, Dr. Walker-Thomas was sassy and assertive. "She was effervescent," said longtime friend Elvenia C. Hopkins, a Baltimore teacher for 33 years.

In 1945, Dr. Walker, as she was known then, wrote an article published in the Journal of Negro Education that promoted sex education for junior high school students. Though her vision was ahead of her time, she never stopped asserting that parents needed to consider that their children might be experimenting with sex.

"She knew parents were uninformed. She knew they needed to be enlightened and believed children should learn about [sex] before they engaged in it," Ms. Hopkins said.

Dr. Walker-Thomas also believed in her heritage. In the 1960s, she received a six-month federal grant to run seminars on African art, history, music, culture and tradition. They were attended by hundreds of Baltimore students and adults, according to friends who helped with the project.

She challenged the status quo at work. In 1972, the Equal Employment Opportunities Office of the U.S. Justice Department, where she was a senior education specialist, concurred that she had not received a promotion because she was a woman.

Despite warnings from her supervisors to let the matter of a promotion go, she believed her work warranted it, and she challenged the agency to explain why it wasn't happening. Despite the EEO finding, she was fired two months later.

She then started her own business, Walkers and Monroe Inc., a Baltimore-based human resources consulting firm. It ran programs such as one that brought people from Baltimore's black and white communities together to discuss urban living.

Earlier, she had been a supervisor of school social workers for the Baltimore Department of Social Services.

She got her doctorate in social work from the University of Pennsylvania in 1963 and held positions with the Baltimore Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, now Health and Human Services, and the Baltimore public school system.

She was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the country's oldest black sorority, and was named one of the United States' outstanding black women in a 1963 report published by New York University.

According to her only son, Douglas Oliver Walker, she taught him to be responsible about sex, thoughtful toward people and always generous.

"She used to say, 'If I got a nickel, you got a nickel,' and that's the way she treated everyone," said Walker, a Wall Street investment broker living in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Dr. Walker-Thomas traveled to Africa and Europe and believed in cross-pollinating cultures. "When I graduated from high school, my parents sent me to Luxembourg for an international living experience," her son said. The family also took in exchange students from Germany.

Linda Bailey-Walker said her mother-in-law was a powerhouse in consulting. "She had age, gender and race against her and she'd still get what she wanted. I'd watch her, and it helped me on Wall Street," she said, referring to her work as a New York-based international mergers and acquisitions consultant.

By all accounts, Dr. Walker-Thomas helped people in need and challenged unfair practices.

After the of death of her first husband, Dr. Walker married James E. Thomas II, a Macon, Ga., businessman and friend from the 1930s, who is deceased.

At the time of her death, Dr. Walker-Thomas was living in Bon Vie, a Randallstown home specializing in the care of Alzheimer's patients.

Services were Friday at March Funeral Home. Contributions may be made to the Alzheimer's Association at 1850-D York Road, Timonium 21093, in the memory of Dr. Dollie Walker-Thomas.

In addition to her son, she is survived by a stepson, James E. Thomas III, and a great-niece, Rosemunde Smith, principal of Mary Rodman Elementary School in Baltimore.

Pub Date: 11/02/97

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