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Farewell, Marilyn, and Thanks
by Glenn Gannaway, Staff/Writer, The Post

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The region's leaders joined
her co-workers and friends in bidding farewell to Marilyn Pace Maxwell, the leader for the first 38 years of the existence of "one of the greatest public service organizations in Virginia and the nation as a whole," as Judge Clarence "Bud" Phillips said.

Maxwell's last day as executive director of Mountain Empire Older Citizens, which began with her work as a gerontology planner in the early 1970s, was Wednesday, October 31.  Her retirement celebration was held last Thursday at Goodloe Center.

"Over the years I have watched Marilyn become a mentor for the women of Southwest Virginia," said Phillips, former General Assembly member and now 30th District judge.  "She was probably one of the first advocates in the mountains of Southwest Virginia for women to get an education, for women to become part of the leadership of organizations, for women to participate in sports, for women to become an integral part of the public life of Southwest Virginia," Phillips said.

If there was a theme running through the celebration, it was Maxwell's passion for the people of Southwest Virginia and for providing services to those people - a passion that had a profound effect on co-workers, the public and political leaders.

Dr. Terry Kilgore, calling Maxwell "a true Southwest Virginian," noted Maxwell's effectiveness as an advocate for the elderly.  "Each year in the General Assembly, we sit around and talk about the top lobbyists," Kilgore jokingly said.  "And every year, I put in a plug for Marilyn."

"I don't know what we're going to do without you," Kilgore said in his salute to Maxwell.  "We're going to miss you."

Like Maxwell, Joan Boyd Short came to Wise County from the small town of Sheffield, Ala. - a fact that neither one knew until the two began working together.  They shared a trailer on West Norton Road in 1972 and have been colleagues and friends ever since.



"Not many of us in our lives get to know people who truly do impact the world we all live in," said Short, a former MEOC employee and now the Ninth District representative to the Commonwealth Council on the Aging.  "I believe every person impacts the world each person lives in, but Marilyn cranks it up.  Our community has been incredibly, positively impacted.  The quality of life of the people in our community has been incredibly impacted because she had a vision; she had a dream."

Julia Dillon, director of MEOC's in-home and family support services, shared humorous anecdotes of working with Maxwell, but she also noted four qualities:

"One, her hard work.  She is tireless in her mission to see that the most vulnerable folks here in Southwest Virginia have what they need to make their lives better.  Two, her concern for the folks she serves and the staff she works with on a daily basis, and their families.  Three, her passion.  When Marilyn believes in something, watch out.  We all know she's not going to let it die.  Four, her Andy Griffith style of doing things.  She can chew you out and have you walk away saying, 'hmm, I'm not sure what happened just now, but I think that went pretty well.'"

Helen Lewis, a key figure in Appalachian studies and a professor at then-Clinch Valley College, helped bring Maxwell to the region.  Lewis noted that someone was needed to teach the college's new social work program.  "She helped develop a really fine rural social work program," Lewis said, adding that Maxwell helped train social workers to lead agencies all over Southwest Virginia.

Robert Ledford, a graduate student of Lewis and Maxwell, remembered becoming the first driver for the upstart Meals on Wheels program.  "I look today and see the fleet of all the vehicles, and I see the people that have been served.  But all of this is because someone had a vision.  God put it in your lap, and you have done great with it." Ledford told Maxwell.

"They always say everyone can be replaced." said Joe Smiddy, chancellor emeritus of Clinch Valley College and an emeritus member of the MEOC board of directors.  "I'm sorry to tell you this is one time you can't.  No one could believe in their wildest imagination that one person could do so much for so many people."