I didn’t think she even knew who I was. After all, she’s lived all over the world and has seen and done everything. Everyone who is anyone in The Salvation Army world knows her name.
I was a friend of her husband Commissioner Stanley Walter. We worked together when I was director of Friendship Room and then Gateway. He was our accountant in his retirement. He came to work every week in his SA uniform, smiled at everyone, did his 4 hour per week job more efficiently than any form of accounting I’ve ever experienced, updated me on our financial situation, gave me a word of encouragement and/or constructive critique, and left. I loved him and was deeply saddened when he told me he was sick and wouldn’t be back. In 2004 I quietly sat in the backseat at his funeral to pay my respects, didn’t talk to a soul, and left. I didn’t even bring greetings to his grieving wife, not wanting to interrupt her grief and thinking she had no idea who I was anyways.
Then along came things like Facebook, and emails became a household thing. Mrs. Walter, even at her age, didn’t skip a beat and learned these things as fast as anyone. She recognized their value in connecting to people all over the world. That’s where we became friends; in cyberspace.
I began getting emails from her saying that her husband had good things to say about me and that she was praying for me in my ministry. That in and of itself moved me deeply. This great woman of prayer is praying for me. What more could anyone ask for?
Over the years we became Facebook ‘friends’. But more importantly, even though we never once got together in person due to our individual weaknesses, I believe we actually became real friends. When I heard she had died, I called up her name on my email and saw that she had written me many many messages. These ranged from notes of encouragement regarding something I had written, to her sharing that she had a brother with MS and so knows lots about what life is like, to her just reminding me that she is praying.
In 2010 I had the privilege of traveling to Cape Town, South Africa. While there, some SA friends brought me to an inner city type corps on the outskirts of the city. On the wall of this building was a plaque stating that it was dedicated to God by the Walters. I’m a slow study, because it was only then that I realized what a big deal all over the world they were. When I got back I emailed Mrs. Walter to tell her of my experience of seeing the plaque. I told her I was reminded of and prayed for her all those miles away. Her very humble response was to simply reminisce fondly of their time there and ask how the corps was doing. They had been in charge of all SA ministries in South Africa and never once bragged or even spoke about it. That’s who they were.
Over time she began signing off her emails as Alison. I took that as permission to call her that instead of ‘Commissioner’ or ‘Mrs. Walter’. And so I did. Even though I always looked up to her as a source of wisdom, as someone I’d like to be more like, I also saw her as my friend.
I went to her funeral this past Sunday afternoon. She was 83.
I left the Army a long time ago and ended up Anglican mostly out of my love for liturgy and sacraments. But quite honestly, SallyAnn funerals are as liturgical as any service you can find. They always move me. First off it was called a ‘Service of Thanksgiving’ and not a funeral. Then, as is always the case at a Salvationist’s funeral, a SA flag was draped over her casket. Then songs were played that were sung with gusto including ‘When we all get to Heaven, What a day of rejoicing that will be”. Also the former general Linda Bond officiated at the service and stated right away that there was no greater honour than to officiate at a person’s memorial service. But most importantly, she was referred to as a woman who had been ‘promoted to glory’. If anyone I’ve ever met deserves that designation it is Alison Walter.
At her service I heard that she was a teacher, a counselor, a student, a loyal SA officer, a prayer warrior, a loving wife/mother/grandmother, and a beloved child of God.
To me she was my friend and I’ll miss her.
See you on the other side Alison