Raphaelita Walker “touched many lives’
February 19, 2017
Raphaelita Walker was one of those rare gems you gravitated to once you got close to her.
The community stalwart died on Tuesday at home just two months after celebrating her 90th birthday in grand style at the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) centre, her second home.
Amid the city’s first major snowfall last December, nearly 250 guests from Canada, the United States and Jamaica braved the winter weather to share the special occasion with an extraordinary woman who impacted many lives.
Diversity and inclusion strategist Hamlin Grange, Walker’s stepson, said she has left an indelible imprint on the community in Toronto.
“I will remember Raphaelita for her generosity of spirit and amazing sense of community,” he pointed out. “While her contributions to the many organizations and causes she was involved in, including playing Miss Santa Claus may seem small, those were huge for the many people and kids she impacted. During her 90 years of living, she saw a lot and she was part of the migration of Caribbean women that came to Canada and Toronto. I have a deep affection for her and everything she stood for.”
A JCA member for over five decades, Walker -- a recipient ofthe 2013 African-Canadian Achievement Award for Excellence in Community -- served on almost every committee during the JCA’s 55-year existence and she could be counted on to perform any organizational task despite health challenges.
She encouraged current president Adaoma Patterson to run for the JCA’s top position last year.
“Raphaelita inspired me to take a leadership position in this organization that she was so passionate about,” said Patterson. “She gave thousands of hours to the JCA, never seeking anything return. She was just a selfless and positive person with a beautiful spirit. We will miss her greatly.”
Married since 1955, Walker and her husband, Gifford, left Jamaica two years later for England. She registered for modelling and dress design courses and secured employment in a boutique where she could utilize her skills. In addition, she was an active volunteer in her community, often lending a helping hand to newcomers.
Frustrated by a rising wave of anti-Black sentiment in the early 1960s and the introduction of the Commonwealth Immigration Act, the Walker’s came to Toronto in 1963 in search of a better life.
She worked as an assistant housekeeper at the Sheraton Hotel and a dress designer at a downtown store before entering the health care field. Along the way, the Walker’s put in quality time and money in almost every JCA endeavour.
They also opened their Toronto home to many students coming from Jamaica and newcomers who arrived here without support.
“Raphaelita was known for her community work and she should be commended for that, but one of the things I would like to highlight is the importance of her contributions to the new Canadian community,” said Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education (Canada) co-founder Dr. Mavis Burke. “She reached out not only to Jamaicans but persons of diverse cultures and provided food, clothing and transportation. She advised new Canadians on how to live in this society and, through her assistance, she set an example of how to live as diverse populations in Canada.”
For nearly four decades, Walker – a PACE life member -- and her husband were Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus at the annual JCA Kids Christmas party. Walker also sponsored Charles Chino Early Childhood and High Holborn Street Basic schools in Jamaica.
“I can think of very few individuals who have so genuinely and consistently demonstrated the kind ofcommitment to early childhood education for the children of Jamaica that Raphaelita Walker has for the past 30 years,” said former Ontario government minister and PACE president Mary Anne Chambers. “Children and youth were also the focus of her generosity here in the Toronto area. She did everything she could to support their development. She had a heart of gold and a limitless passion for doing good. She was tireless and she was a true inspiration to others.
Walker, who always ended a conversation with the words, ‘love you’, was the mother of Jamaica’s Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment & Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange.
“She lived a life that epitomized the true meaning of the words, ‘Love and helpful’,” said Grange.