Taylor L. Willingham, 1957-2011, Public Engagement Pioneer

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Taylor Willingham

Taylor L. Willingham, a pioneer in the public engagement field and in National Issues Forums (NIF) work, including her service as a National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) director, passed away on Monday, September 5, 2011 at her home in Salado, Texas, after a year-long battle with kidney cancer.

During her career Taylor designed, organized, and led numerous public engagement projects; taught university courses online; founded Texas Forums, along with her work with the LBJ Presidential Library; worked in the adult literacy field; and wrote about public engagement, just to name a few of her many accomplishments.

The following is a message written by Taylor's mother, June Willingham, announcing Taylor's death, and the establishment of the Taylor Willingham Legacy Fund:

Heaven just became sweeter…
…for the time has come for our shining star, who never had enough time, to make her final journey to eternal life where time has no end.  She slipped through the fingers of her loving family at her side, husband and mom and dad, unencumbered at last, in a spiritual body with no more pain or suffering, to her home in the heavens in the evening of September 5, 2011.
On August 17, 1957, this beautiful baby was shoved out into God’s beautiful world, flawed by man.  With hands on hips, and head held firm, she assessed the situation and declared, “What we need is deliberative democracy through deliberative dialogue with community engagement learning to manage change through libraries with literacy involvement.”  And that was her life’s work.
But alas, her work came to an untimely end in this world.  She has moved on to a bigger and better world where there is no need to deliberate democracy, for there is only one party—sitting at the feet of Jesus singing and praising God.  This community is already engaged in harmony and in one accord.  The Management never changes—He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  And everyone can read their own names in the only book—the Book of Life.  I wonder which of her names will be recorded there.  Taylor?  Teri?  Terri Lynn? Or Teresa.  Doesn’t matter.  Taylor by any other name is a child of God.
We invite you to a celebration of her life on September 17, at the Salado United Methodist Church.  Taylor loved nature, but her real passion was her work.  If you would like to honor her memory and support her passions, you may donate, in lieu of flowers, to:
Taylor Willingham Legacy Fund, to honor her life’s work in a way that comes from her and means she will be remembered for the core of her own passion.
Send check marked for Willingham Legacy Fund to:
National Issues Forums Institute
National Issues Forum 100 Commons Road
Dayton, Ohio 45459
Salado Education Foundation (marked for Willingham Memorial)
P O Box 458
Salado, TX 76571
Attn:  Claire Hartman
Thank you all for your loving support during this difficult journey.  Your beautiful notes have carried us through, and we will treasure them always as we carry Taylor in our hearts.  She will be missed by family and friends.
With love,
Terry, Ben, June, Brent, Terri, Ben and Becca
Taylor L. Willingham obituary


Patty Dineen's picture
Taylor was a wonderful friend and a much-appreciated colleague in the dialogue and deliberation community. I have known and worked with Taylor since 1993 and I will miss her very much.

Angela Fulmer's picture
Taylor's mother, June Willingham, wrote such a beautiful tribute above. It is an inspiration to us all, and a deeply moving reflection of the beauty within. May Taylor's spirit, laughter, passion and example inspire others for years to come, From reading the beautiful passage above, I only wish I had known her, but I do feel uplifted and inspired through her example. Angela Fulmer

Diane Miller's picture
It's exciting to know that Taylor's passion for this work and ability to inspire and draw out the best in people continues through not only this Legacy fund, but in so many countless ways. Friends and colleagues in the dialogue and deliberation community in Central Texas continue to build on the foundation that Taylor laid. I know that she would be thrilled, and she'd pull out her notepad and start drawing out plans for how we could do even more to keep this vital work going. We all miss her so, but the torch she lit in so many continues to burn bright.

deliber8ca's picture
My wife, Carole, and I were blessed in being able to work with Taylor on a variety of projects for 20 years. There is literally nothing that we do in our NIF projects where we are far from Taylor's continuing, positive influence. Here are a couple examples: Taylor introduced me to the virtual world of Second Life (SL)...inviting me to create an avatar so I could attend a virtual workshop on public engagement. Subsequently, we organized several meetings in SL, and linked out work with Beth Offenbacker. The three of us then...Taylor, Beth and me...had some 'visioning' conversations about deliberation in SL. When the national AmericaSpeaks effort was being planned then...she assisted us in organizing a session in SL...that was small-scale, but very successful. At present, Beth continues to sponsor deliberative forums in SL with a colleague of hers in Virginia. I'm in the process of launching a new effort that will try new methods in interactive, online deliberation...and will pursue issue framing in SL for topics that are global, bringing an international group together in a virtual meeting space. All of these continuing efforts in SL were part of our shared vision...and Taylor is always on my mind when I open SL for another session. Over the past several years, we also had numerous conversations about the power of the internet in support of our deliberative work. Subsequently, several workshops emerged at the Kettering Foundation (KF) to investigate how we could integrate online and face-to-face research and deliberation. Taylor was the pioneer with several methods we're working on now. Last summer, a workshop at the annual gathering of deliberative practitioners with KF brought online support into view for many participants at the Deliberative Democracy Exchange (DDEx). Now...a small group of us are chatting about the next steps for online and smartphone support of our deliberative networking...working on a proposal for amping up our integration of online methods for DDEx 2012. As I reminded our group recently...with every step we take to bring more people into a dynamic, learning network of deliberative practitioners, Taylor is with us in spirit.

deliber8ca's picture
Oh, the blog didn't include my name...I'm Craig Paterson, living and working in northern California.

Kimberlee Spillers's picture
Taylor came to my mind this morning and I am uplifted by the thought of her drive, smile, encouragement, and constant action for people to work collectively. I thank God, again, for her presence in my life. In this week of Jesus' resurrection at Easter, I miss her now, but am excited and confident that we will meet again someday.