When they sang “We Wish you a Merry Christmas” to her on the telephone at this year’s sherry party, they did not know that on Christmas Eve, less than two weeks later, Lois Van Valkenberg would be dead.
Van Valkenberg, Beverly Bidler and Beverly Steele have hosted the women’s only event since 1979. This year, however, Van Valkenberg’s health kept her at home. She died Dec. 24, at the age of 82.
Bidler first met Van Valkenberg in 1952. “Working on some political campaign or other,” Bidler said. “Lois was absolutely committed to getting a variety of people involved in whatever she was doing because she didn’t want the effort to die because she had gone on to something else. She was particularly interested in bringing young people into groups in which she was involved.”
Mayor Kerry J. Donley first met Van Valkenberg nearly 20 years ago on the United Way Board. “When she was advocating for something she was very persistent,” he said. “Lois wasn’t a shouter and you might not agree with her the first time she presented her case but by the fifth or sixth time, I was usually convinced. She was a tireless advocate for the rights of the mentally ill and for women’s issues. She will be missed.”
Lois Van Valkenburgh was born on April 18, 1920, in Milwaukee. She attended college at the University of Wisconsin and moved to Alexandria in 1948, where she and her husband, Willard, raised three children, Woody, Blaire and Jack.
DURING HER 54 years in the city, she was active in civic and political affairs, particularly with The League of Women Voters, producing Alexandria’s first voters guide. She served on many boards and commissions, including the Alexandria Volunteer Bureau’s Board, the Community Services Board, the Walk to Fight Breast Cancer and the Commission on Women to name a few. She also served as a campaign manager for a number of candidates for local, state and national office.
“If she decided to do something, she did it completely and energetically,” Bidler said. “I am certain that this included traveling. She went to Alaska with her family in August and, I am sure, wanted to see and do everything. That’s how she ran campaigns, served on boards and commissions and volunteered.”
Susan Dawson, director of Senior Services of Alexandria, said Van Valkenburgh had been a member of the Senior Services Board of Directors for the past two years.
"When I first took this job five years ago," said Dawson, "I knew I needed to meet Lois and talk to her because she was the preeminent expert on issues relating to aging in Alexandria.
"I very quickly learned that when Lois and I were on opposite sides of an issue she was going to win," Dawson said. "I remember talking to a Council member about one such issue and the Council member told me that Lois had the four Council votes she needed on any issue just by sticking her head in the door."
After her trip, Van Valkenberg contracted pneumonia and was never able to fully recover. She died of congestive heart failure at her home in Washington House.