Photo by Nina
Lois Walker is a wonderful example of the involved citizen, sometimes as a
public official, and sometimes as an individual who continues to give time
and effort to a community she loves and to causes in which she believes.
By Sherry Wilson Brown
ALEXANDRIA, VA. - It is hard to pinpoint when Alexandria
Living Legend Lois Walker first recognized the importance
of good public transportation but talk with her about Alexandria for long
and the subject will come up.
During her time as an elected official and since, she has been an active
advocate for transportation with a visionary’s image for what
transportation should and could be.
Lois is dedicated to seeing the creation of a
citywide transportation system that blends various modes of public and
private transportation into an integrated system.
She was an enthusiastic supporter of “Smart shelters” and “Smart
stations” that use existing technology to provide up-to-date travel
information. In an ideal situation, riders can track the locations of
their buses, trolleys or trains to avoid delays and arrive at nearby
shelters in adequate time to catch their transportation modes without
“A rider could know before leaving home if there is a delay so he could
finish that second cup of coffee in comfort and still be there when the
delay is resolved,” Walker said.
“It’s not about new technology,” Lois explained, “as much as it is
about looking at things differently and using technology in better ways.
Planning and land use go together and we can’t have walkable communities
without public transportation. Everyone, young and old, fit and impaired,
needs access. Transportation must be easy, usable, and available.
Thank goodness former City Council member Tim Lovain is
carrying on the fight for a street car system. It is ironic that we
are going back to the past to come up with a solution to modern
Transportation may be in her genes because her grandfather was a railroad
It may have been her early experience with trains
when she lived in Japan as a youngster, but later she certainly used
public transportation to get to and from high school.
she is a fan of Metro and believes it has its place in a cohesive
transportation system, she reminds us that public transit is more than
the subway. “It’s not all Metro. We need, dare I say it, light rail
and street cars. The key is modes of transportation that people
are willing to use and that provide frequent, easy to use transportation
at street level.”
As a city, state and regionally-recognized
authority on transportation issues, Lois served on the City’s Ad Hoc
Alexandria Transportation Committee where she advocated a system that is
not only efficient and economical to operate but that will be safe and
attractive for everyone to use.
For two years, she chaired Virginians for High Speed
Rail, working at the State, regional, and national level to
support passenger and freight rail as an alternative to vehicles.
She continues as an active member of its Board of Directors. At Mark
Warner’s request, she served on the Governor’s Ad Hoc Commission on
Transportation and Urban Growth Policies.
During the two terms she served on Alexandria’s City Council, Lois
significantly influenced transportation policy as Alexandria’s
representative on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
(WMATA) Board of Directors.
She also served on the boards of the Northern
Virginia Transportation Commission, Virginia Railway Express and the
Northern Virginia Transportation Coordinating Council. Lois was a member
of the Virginia Municipal League’s Transportation Policy Committee and
served as chair of VML’s Urban Section.
In addition, she was an active member of the Metropolitan Washington
Council of Governments’ Transportation and Planning Board. It
was her courageous and determined action that assured that there would
be space for public transportation on the new Wilson Bridge.
Transportation is just one of the areas in which Lois has been active in
Alexandria. She was a founder and first president of Friends of the
Torpedo Factory Art Center, a co-founder of the Alexandria Commission on
Information Technology, a co-founder of the Potomac West Business
Alliance, Chair of the Washington Street Task Force, a member of the
Chesapeake Bay Policy Committee and a member of the King Street Task
Force, Waterfront Committee, and Braddock Area Team.
Additionally, Lois served on the National League of Cities’ Leadership
Training Council. Lois managed a number of Marian Van Landingham’s
early political campaigns including her first election to the Virginia
House of Delegates.
More recently, Lois has been president of KSMET,
the association representing Old Town Businesses; chair of Agenda:
Alexandria; chair of the 2005 Alexandria United Way Campaign; vice chair
of the Old Town BID Committee, a member of the Advisory Board of
Healthy Families Alexandria, secretary of the King Street Gardens Park
Foundation, and treasurer of GWEN (Getting Women Elected Now). She is a
founder of Vital Public Spaces and president of Walker Real Estate. She
is an active member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She
received the Marian Van Landingham Legislation and
Public Policy Award from the Alexandria Commission on Women.
Lois have any regrets about Alexandria?
“It seems that we really don't care about how Alexandria looks, how
Alexandria appears to those who live here or visit. I chaired the
Washington Street Task Force hoping that this would not turn out to be
an architectural debate but a movement toward creating a great street. I
could imagine driving down the George Washington Parkway and entering
the City of Alexandria. There would be a nice sign saying
This is the home of George Washington, Robert E.
Lee, etc., founded in 1774.' And then there would be a grand, tree-lined
avenue with uniform trees, trash planters, and a median strip.”
“The debate in Alexandria often comes to real nitpicking like the
width of sidewalks or building heights and that does not allow the
creation of simple solutions. I co-chaired the King Street
Business Improvement District task force and felt that appearance was
the most important thing we could do -- keeping sidewalks clean,
installing hanging baskets of flowers and doing cornice lighting rather
than tree lights. These are the kind of things that could be done
without a great deal of money. We have lived here long enough to know
that many things can be done by moving in a direction. When money is
spent, spend it toward a goal.”
Despite her busy public life, Lois Walker has an equally busy private
She continues to run her late husband John Walker’s real estate
business. Her daughter Donna Walker James and son Boyd are closely
associated with her in the family business where it’s not unusual for
Lois’ dog, the unsinkable Molly Brown, and Donna’s dog, Smoky, to be
Lois is a proud grandmother to her three grandchildren, Boyd’s
daughter, Alo Lenk-Walker, a budding musician, and Donna’s artistic
sons Tobin and Tyler.
Lois Walker is a wonderful example of the involved citizen, sometimes as
a public official, and sometimes as an individual who continues to give
time and effort to a community she loves and to causes in which she
The key to her success?
“You just do it. Sometimes it is almost civil disobedience. Sometimes
you have to nag, well, more politely, ‘remind' a lot so you don’t
get lost in the shuffle. You just have to stay focused on what you are
trying to achieve and keep pushing. If you are not willing to nag a
little, I just don’t think you care enough.”
Sherry Wilson Brown is Executive Director of Agenda Alexandria
This is the fourth in a series of 12 profiles that will appear this
year. For more information or to nominate a Legend for next year's
Now beginning its third year, Living Legends of Alexandria is an ongoing
501(c)(3) photojournalistic project to identify, honor and chronicle
Alexandria's Living Legends. The project was conceived by
artist-photographer Nina Tisara to create an enduring artistic record of
the people whose vision and dedication make a tangible difference to the
quality of life in Alexandria. Living Legends is supported in part
by a generous donation from the Rotary Club of Alexandria.