Meet Valaida Walker
Achieving so others can succeed
Born In Darby, Pennsylvania in 1932, Valaida Walker grew up in a loving and supportive family that valued education and encouraged her always to put all of herself in whatever she did. She did just that—and paid it forward with a life and career devoted to helping others of all abilities to be their best as well. In the process she broke down barriers as the first woman and/or African-American in many of the positions she held.
A special heart for special needs
Valaida earned a bachelor’s degree from Howard University, then went on to earn a master’s and a doctorate in special education from Temple University.
Two of the most important lessons she’s learned in life, she says, are to “plan and have goals, even if they’re minor” and “do something for others.”
Valaida certainly followed through with both of those lessons. She established special needs programs in several states and trained special needs teachers in the Caribbean. She was named executive advisor to the Caribbean Association on Mental Retardation and served on the first Commission on Mental Retardation in Southeastern Pennsylvania. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed Valaida to the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation. She also was the first Black president of AAMD, a national organization for professionals who serve the mentally challenged and she was the first woman to chair the board of directors of Elwyn, Inc., a non-profit serving thousands of special-needs children and adults.
Over the years, Valaida received Special Educator of the Year and Teacher of the Year awards from Sigma Pi Epsilon Delta, the national special education honor society, and service awards from Kappa Alpha Pi and the Chapel of the Four Chaplains.
Serving and supporting students
After returning to Temple to teach, Valaida was named chair of the Department of Special Education and later was appointed Vice President for Student Affairs. Among the many happy memories she has of her time at Temple, she recalls ribbon-cutting ceremonies fondly, because of what they stood for.
“They were the culmination of projects primarily affecting student life,” she says.
She clearly made an impact. When she retired, Temple University named the Valaida S. Walker Food Court in her honor. In addition, Temple’s Valaida S. Walker Award is presented to a sophomore or junior who demonstrates leadership at the school and in the community.
In addition to supporting the student body as a whole, Valaida was happy to be able support the development of individual students—at Temple and elsewhere. After her retirement, she read to a neighborhood child every Monday, she noted in a 2008 interview with The Network Journal, a magazine for Black professionals and small business.
Lessons from the school of life
Today Valaida looks back at a life well lived, devoted to the service of others, filled with opportunities for education and travel. Still, she doesn’t dwell in the past, but lives for today—and tomorrow. Aging well, she says, is a matter of “keeping an active mind and having interactions with positive people.” She prefers to see the glass half full, not half empty. And she shares the wisdom of Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer, counseling to “accept what you cannot change and change what you can—and know the difference.” The lives of countless students at Temple and beyond, and of her neighbors at Simpson House, are all the richer for Valaida Walker’s positive energy.