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Tributes to Wanda Alston

In Memoriam: Wanda Alston, Prominent Leader in LGBT Community
and Former NOW Staff Member

“Death lies upon her like an untimely frost…”

Wanda Alston was so many things to so many people. To me, she was a colleague, a sister Capital City NOW member, and a friend. Wanda was one of the most resourceful people I’ve ever known. She worked hard to find her way from a segregated town in Virginia to the center of an international women’s conference in Beijing. She didn’t accept “no” as an answer to any question she posed.

I affectionately called Wanda “Dif” ­ which was short for “Wandifferous” (a nickname I gave her). “Wandifferous” is a melding of her name and the words “different” and “wondrous.” That’s what Wanda was — different from anyone you’ve ever known and wondrous in more ways than I dare try to list. She embraced her differences proudly and counted them as assets. And that’s one of the things that made Wanda so wondrous.

Wanda will always be “Dif” to me. And when I remember her, I’ll always see that smile — or was it a smirk? — and the blurry image of her dashing off to her next adventure. May she travel gently on her final journey.

“A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun for sorrow will not show [its] head.
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon’d and some punished;
For never was a story of more woe
Than this…”

— Loretta Kane
Washington, DC

I never knew this sister, but it sounds like she was truly a great and dedicated woman. Definitely a Soldier. I am from the streets and I can tell you that violence on women in Washington DC is at an all time high. Especially on young females in the Life like myself. Wanda Alston was an asset to our community and a role model for young gay women stuggling to find a place in a world that rejects us.

—Deneen White
Takoma Park, MD

Yesterday’s memorial service was incredibly moving—an opportunity to talk about the Wanda we knew so well—fierce, determined, never-take-no-for-an-answer, passionate, a fighter, and above all, convincing. “She made me do it” was an oft-repeated phrase in stories about how Wanda influenced people to get active and “do something” whether they wanted to or not (like convincing me to go to fundraisers for her clients after she became a political consultant—how could you say ‘no’ to Wanda?) I was Executive Vice President of NOW when Wanda was on the NOW staff and later on the National Board—and she was always on the move, negotiating, bargaining, making things happen, making friends and making a difference. Her life was full of deeds, not just words, and she will be terribly missed.

—Kim Gandy, President, National Organization for Women
Washington, D.C.

Wanda was a great leader and tremendous human resource in the District of Columbia. She really made a different in improving the quality of life for all Washingtonians. Now she will also do so in her heavenly home. Please continue to be strong and know that you are truly blessed. Thanks for sharing your Daughter, Sister and Partner with us.

God Bless you always.

—Donna D. Owens
Atlanta, GA

I was privileged to work with Wanda in the St. Lucie County (Fla.) GOTV. She was highly effective in running headquarters, getting out the message and she was great fun to be with. I'm sure she will be missed by all whose lives she touched.

Peace and Good,

—Georgia Swan
Port St. Lucie, FL

Though I did not know Sis. Wanda Alston personally and had only seen her at several events in the city, she definitely had a presence; she would be walking to and fro, getting things done. When her name was mentioned, it was always mentioned with great respect, as a sister who gets things done AND done right. The memorial for her today was a powerful and very moving testimony to the great life she lived and wonderful example she has set for others. She is greatly loved and respected, she will be greatly missed by all.

In Sisterhood and In Struggle,

—Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture
Washington, DC


ST. LUCIE COUNTY, FL — The Democratic Executive Committee of St. Lucie County (DEC) expresses its profound sorrow at the death of Wanda R. Alston, Democratic organizer and consultant, who was murdered in her home in Washington, D.C. on March 16, 2005. Alston, who was 46, took a leave of absence from her position as a member of District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams's cabinet to come to St. Lucie County to direct voter registration and get-out-the-vote activities for the Kerry-Edwards 2004 election campaign.

For the two months she was here Alston stayed with Kathryn Hensley, a member of the St. Lucie County School Board, and her husband Carl.

“Wanda was a strong, feisty and very determined woman who helped change St. Lucie County because of her work here,” Kathryn Hensley recalled. “Her primary purpose in life was to prevent others from having to undergo the very tough experiences she endured growing up and as a young woman. Her death is a terrible loss.”

Alston also made a lasting impression on County Commissioner Doug Coward, who helped coordinate local volunteers for the Kerry campaign. He said he was “deeply saddened by her tragic death.”

“Wanda was a consummate professional with a heart of gold,” Coward said. He described how after Hurricane Frances ravaged St. Lucie County, she put aside politics and helped distribute food, ice and water to local residents. She even gave away her own money to needy families that she met on the streets.

According to Celeste Bush, DEC chairwoman, Alston was a masterful political strategist and a tireless leader.

“Wanda taught us a great deal about political organizing and motivated us with her resolve to get results no matter what,” Bush said. “Hurricanes couldn’t stop her and she wouldn’t allow them stop us. Her sheer force of will enabled us to achieve much more than we realized we could.”

Bush said that although Alston was a demanding taskmaster, respect for her grew into warm friendship by the end of the campaign.

“We told her she would be welcome if she ever wanted to return, and she promised to come back and work with us in 2006 elections,” Bush said. “Now she’s gone forever, but we will always remember Wanda, and she will continue to inspire all of us.”

—William O. Jenkins, Democratic State Committeeman
For the St. Lucie County (FL) DEC
Port St. Lucie, FL

I am shocked by this sudden news. I worked with Wanda, sometime in the early '90's, for some event, for some good cause, jointly planned between National and NOW-NYC, and all I remember is The Grand Hyatt and WANDA. Cropped hair. Burning eyes. High energy. Direct, no bullshit, and also, diplomatic and charming, and smart, smart, smart. Without thinking, I believe I always just imagined her out there, till she grew very old, and very grey, a day far, far away. But the tragic end is here now. My condolences to all.

—Diane H. Welsh, Past President, NOW-NYC
Brooklyn, NY

God bless Wanda Alston for all of her hard work. May she rest in peace.

—Nina L. Grigoreas
Canterbury, CT

The help from the Democratic Party came in the persons of Wanda and Alex. This was election time and the Port St. Lucie Democrats Club was struggling to get our work in order. We had suffered through two devastating hurricanes and now we were buoyed by a human hurricane, Wanda! We were organized, ordered, accompanied, badgered and motivated by our visiting whirlwind. In the end our county was one of the few "Blue" counties in Florida. The reason? We had Wanda's energy, focus and vision to push us to that victory. We will be eternally grateful for the experience we gained in those weeks of campaigning. Now we grieve that this brief but intense encounter with Wanda will not have a chance to renew. However, our knowledge and skills learned will follow in the next elections, and what better remembrance can we make than building on her work. Peace and Love to her family and friends.

—Tim Krieger
Port St. Lucie, FL

Thank you dear woman! The world needs more strong queer black women - one on every corner of the world!!!! Love to you!

—Peg Collins
Southfield, MI

I had the opportunity to interact with Wanda several times and found her to be very warm, so helpful and full of energy and hope. In fact, what I observed about Wanda was her ability to inspire, to lead. Over the last decade, I have met many young women (particularly in the LGBT community) who spoke of Wanda's strength and her compassion. Wanda did inspire us to be better activists, to never back down in the face of a challenge, and to dare to act on our convictions and passions. Her spirit will endure in our own acts of kindness, decisive leadership and sisterhood.

—Duchy Trachtenberg, President, Maryland NOW, NOW Board Member
N. Bethesda, MD

My husband and I went to Florida to work on a friend's campaign for the final weekend before the 2004 election. Wanda was running the coordinated campaign in Ft. Pierce and she was terrific. We walked in the door, met Wanda, saluted, and went to work wherever she sent us - door to door, on the phones, folding, etc. If Wanda had been duplicated, not possible of course, throughout Florida, Kerry would have won, Martinez would have lost, and we'd be in a very different place. That said, however, there were fine local candidates who did win thanks to her terrific effort. Our hearts go out to all who loved her.

—Maureen Shea

I first met Wanda when she joined the NOW Action Center. She was a strong feminist, a strong lesbian, and a strong woman; and she got even stronger. Wanda had a positive, can-do attitude about anything that she tackled. She never met an action that she didn’t love! She loved them all… no matter how big or small… and applied her positive energies to them in creative ways. She was an Organizer. Wanda was great with people and was able to coax and cajole folks into doing things they didn’t think they would or could do. I’m so proud of all that she did in her life… all the fight for WomenLGBTHumanCivil Rights that was in her, all her struggles, all of her successes, all that was still to be! She will be sorely missed. I was lucky to run into her just a month ago, at the LGBT Caucus at the DNC’s Winter Meeting. We hugged!

—Alice Cohan, Feminist Majority Political Director
Former NOW Political Director
Director, March for Women’s Lives
Washington, DC

When I started interning at the National NOW Office back in 1994 I met Wanda and was awed by her integrity and drive. When I became a staffer in 1996, I was still awed by her work ethic. She was a force to be reckoned with and for that loss, I am sad to know that someone took her away from the movement. Whereever you are, Wanda, I hope you know that you are missed.

—AnitaMarie Murano, Colorado NOW Coordinator and Former Intern and Volunteer Coordinator
Denver, CO

I remember when I first met Wanda, it was at a training in Covington KY in 2003. She was facilitating one of the workshops, and because she was based out of DC and I knew that is where I wanted to spend some time I approached her. She was wonderful from the beginning. That weekend I had to decide if I was going to take an internship with an organization in DC, and I was terrified and just not wanting to make a decision. She told me to do it, that the details would work themselves out and that it would change my life. She was so right.

The day that I got time with her that summer in DC her office was planning the memorial of two trans victims of a hate crime that happened in DC the year before. Her office was buzzing with last minute planning, and she pulled me into her office to tell me about the gratification she had when she talked to the families of the victims and how grateful they were to her office.

Wanda touched my life in a way few people do, and I will be eternally grateful for the experiences she shared with me as a queer activist. I wish I could get to DC and celebrate this amazing woman's life, but I want her family and friends to know that I had the privilege of knowing this woman, and know that the world is sad to see her go, but better off because of her life.

—Kristi Lohmeier
Louisville, KY

Wanda, your life and your work transcended boundaries. Across the country, we celebrate your victories in life and won't stop fighting until everyone can celebrate equality. Our thoughts and prayers are with Stacey and friends.

—Gary Schiff, Minneapolis City Council Member
Minneapolis, MN

I keep on seeing the tilted head, raised eyebrow and flash of a smile. I keep on hearing that fast-speaking voice and feeling the rush to keep up with that fast walk. I can't quite imagine that we will never sit in a meeting together, debrief over drinks together, or run around at rallies together. Truth be told, it's been years since I joined Wanda organizing the front line of a rally or making sure one of our leaders didn't have spinach in her teeth. But I know that she has gone on to work her magic in other arenas, to flash that knowing smile and raise that all-too-knowing eyebrow in other meetings ... to make an insistent difference in lots of worlds. And I somehow always imagined that our paths would cross again, and that, in the meantime, we'd catch up periodically and stay in touch. I always imagined times into the future where we'd laugh or conspire to change the world. I can't believe those moments won't come, dear Wanda. Let me say what I perhaps should have before: Thank you, Wanda. For your work, your spirit, your irreverence and your humor. I shall carry it with me and miss you. Sweet travels, dear friend.

—Ellen Zucker
Brookline, MA

Wanda, I will miss you, especially the energy and enthusiasm you brought to whatever task had your attention. I remember all the times we worked together to organize marches and conferences, especially the Women of Color and Allies Summit and how you involved the local DC community in the planning. When I think about Board meetings, regional and national conferences, I can still hear your voice, that low raspy quality calling to me, always wanting to know what I was thinking. Wanda, may you continue to inspire all of us to make the most of every day.

In Sisterhood,

—Barbara DiTullio, Former PA NOW President & Former National Board Member
Philadelphia, PA

Thank you, Wanda, for all you did for Human Rights. We need more people like you in this world. You touched more lives than you can ever possibly imagine.

—Kate Leonard
Hillsdale, NJ

An Activist, a member of the gay community she fought for equality for many people of the gay, lesbian, trangender, bisexual community. Death is a hard thing to deal with especially when someone so special, intelligent and outgoing as Wanda is taken away against her will at the blink of an eye. I never knew her personally but I knew of her from the news, gay community. As for a replacement, there will never be one. As for her killer, drugs kills a human inside and out while deteriorating the mind, but the part I will never understand is how can death be put on another person because they are trying to meet their dirty habit. He will have many years to sit and think about what he did, the pain he has caused her family, friends and co-workers and I hope it eats him up on the inside and out like the drugs he was taking. Society says that drugs do kill but do drugs make us kill one another. My prayers and deepest sympathy goes out to her family. Wanda will be missed.


Woodlawn, MD

Thanks for your love and friendship over the years. May God continue to hold you in loving arms. Love you lots,

—James Fleming
Fort Lauderdale, FL

Wanda was one of the most persuasive and intense people I've ever known. The first time I encountered her was over the phone. Patricia Ireland's book had just come out and there was a signing at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square in NYC. Wanda called the NOW NYC chapter to ask us to DO something, get people there, put info on the chairs, whatever. Of course while we were very happy about the book, there were, as usual, about a million things going on demanding our attention. I tried to put Wanda off—gently. By the end of the conversation, she'd convinced me that if we didn't do a good job turning out the crowd and assisting in whatever we being asked to do, that the entire book launch would be a disaster. I hung up the phone having agreed to do everything and more, and having the personal feeling that I was holding the future of the book, of feminism ITSELF, in my hands. But that's how Wanda made you feel: like what you did MATTERED. It's a loss for our community, but also for our world, that she is no longer in it.

—Anne Conners, former President, NOW NYC
Cushing, ME

We are stunned and saddened by the news of our sister Wanda Alston's sudden passing apparently as the result of a violent attack in her home. Wanda was a strong, resilient woman who in many ways epitomized the struggle of all women to define ourselves, overcome our challenges and work together to make our dreams come true. During my tenure as Action-Vice President, Wanda worked at NOW as administrative aide to the president and as special projects coordinator. She was a vibrant member of the DC community actively working against violence and for equality and justice for all women and LGBT people. In 2001, DC Mayor Anthony Williams appointed Wanda to serve as the mayor's liaison to the LGBT community and in 2004 elevated the position to the cabinent level This is stunning news, and so very tragic. We mourn the loss of a valuable, loved woman and salute her lifetime accomplishments. She has left deep footprints in the sand and a legacy that challenges us all to continue the struggle for a non-violent, just society.

—Rosemary Dempsey, former NOW National Vice-President
Niantic, CT

I met Wanda exactly 10 years ago, when I first started volunteering at the national NOW office. NOW was organizing the 1995 rally that brought attention to the issue of violence against women. There was so much work to do, and Wanda was one of the staff members that I was assigned to. She really made me feel welcome and played a part in my deciding to work at NOW full-time. Wanda was a fun, tough, energetic, special person who will never be forgotten thanks to the amazing work she did and the lives she touched. I hope she knew how much she meant to all of us.

—Lisa Bennett, NOW Communications Director
Washington, D.C.

Wanda, I wish we had known each other better and longer. I wish that last dance would have been longer. I wish we were closer. I'm sad to see you go so, so, so early. But, I shall thank God because I'm certain that you are in heaven right now fighting some cause for the people.

—Cyndi M. Nixon
Reston, VA

To My Best Friend and Buddy WANDA ALSTON she is the best woman and a fine speaker that also took her pride in her work and the national organization for women's office is when I met and became the best out-going worker she always gives one hell of a great speech- out for women's rights and she is my hero and a Inspiration towards the NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN and I wish this never happend to her.

—Lauren Rittenhouse
Jupiter, FL

Oh ms Wanda, i will miss you so. For almost 20 years you shaped us up and shipped us out to rallies, marches, pickets, protests and everywhere we needed to go to make sure our voices were heard. And now your voice is silent. But not your spirit. It's here at the NOW Action Center, urging us not to give up, ever.

Your pal,

—Pat Reuss, NOW Senior Policy Analyst
Springfield, VA

Wanda worked for me on my New Jersey congressional campaign and her dedication and way of involving many different people in issues and causes were legendary. Even now I remember her dedication; once, she went the extra mile and had Patricia Ireland come up for a campaign fundraiser. Wanda was a model for citizens who, rather than focusing exclusively on their private lives, contribute greatly to the Republic.

—Carl J. Mayer, Esq.
New York, NY

It's a dark day when the country loses someone willing to devote themselves to the struggle for equality for all our diverse citizens. As the mother of a lovely lesbian I know Wanda's work was needed and appreciated. My heartfelt condolences to Wanda's partner and family.

—Patricia Wilson
Los Angeles, CA

I got to know Wanda when I served on the national NOW Board. I happened to be in D.C. when she was murdered, and I was able to attend the memorial. The tributes there were far-reaching, inspirational and honored this important young woman. I remember her spirit, her strength and her commitment. Because of her, I shall be rededicating my work in the feminist movemennt.

—Jacquie Steingold
Detroit, MI

Wanda, I somehow thought that I'd share another chat with you someday, or hit some tennis with you again someday. But the shocking loss of you makes it clear that I should have made that someday a priority, and I will take that lesson to heart. It's hard to believe—still—that your light and energy have moved on to another place. The world here is just that bit dimmer with you gone.

—Patrice Curtis
Berkeley, CA

one of my sistalove friends told me about wanda's death this morning as i was sitting in her office. i was floored and filled with tears because wanda was such a strong spirit and advocate for women and all people ... she was a true gift to humanity.

i met her at sisterspace and books in the 90s when she was working at now, and later in beijing at the women's conference in 1995. she always included me in woman-centered events about beijing and helped me network with my poetry and art when i was first starting out. a lot of the art shows that i did at lammas books and the mautner project were because she exposed me to a wider audience of women who were straight, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender.

join me in affirming that the light of God surrounds wanda's spirit, her beloved partner, family, friends and all of us. the love of God enfolds us. the power of God protects us. and the presence of God watches over us. wherever we are God is and all is well. ase. and so it is. amen.

peace, love, and light,

—Ananda Kiamsha Madelyn Leeke
Washington, DC

Shock and deep, deep sadness consume my heart, to know your bright, intense light has been dimmed. I enjoyed your 'shake em up' vigor, Wanda. I remember we talked about what brought you to be so passionate and you told me of the murder of your sister. I told you of the murder of my cousin. And you said, you have to keep fighting. I am so overwhelmed with sorrow to know you are gone. Your family is in my thoughts. Thank you for touching my life, and the lives of my daughter and mother.

—Renee Berry-Huffman Lee
Menands, NY

Today, at the All Souls Church in Washington, DC, I said good-bye to Wanda. Her untimely death has brought tears to my eyes, pain and grief to my heart and many, many memories of our times together. She was beautiful, exciting, fun and a great dancer! Her enthusiam was contagious and her zest for life was extraordinary.

I will miss seeing her around town, being with her at NOW events, receiving her e-mails. But mostly, I will miss her call to raise our voices for the oppressed, the disenfranchised and the most vulnerable in our society. On her behalf and in her memory, we must recommit ourselves to working together until equality is a reality for all.

—Olga Vives, NOW Action Vice President
Washington, DC

I haven't been in touch with Wanda for several years. I will always remember her as a burst of energy and commitment. It's hard to imagine that force is quiet now. My heart goes out to her family, wishing you the best getting through this time.

—Mira Weinstein
Sacramento, CA

In Memoriam: Wanda Alston, Prominent Leader in LGBT Community
and Former NOW Staff Member

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