Even in the midst of adversity, Jackie Walker soars through life. In fact, she has been soaring along since her childhood in Atlanta, and then through her years at Lee University in Tennessee, where she put her positive energy to good use as captain of the cheerleading squad. Walker met her husband, Don, at Lee University, where he was a star basketball player. They were married in 1958 and have been spiritual and emotional partners ever since.
“Planning meetings is work, but it's fun work.”
— Jackie Walker
Walker and her husband have been actively involved in ministry and leadership roles since their marriage. In her early years of service, she witnessed both poorly planned and well-executed meetings. Walker stored these experiences in the “meeting planning” side of her brain, and as her husband was appointed to strategic leadership positions, she found herself coaching local congregations and other denominational leadership entities on meeting planning. It was a hobby before it became part of her career.
She currently is the development director for the Church of God Theological Seminary in Cleveland, Tenn., where her husband is president. She plans several meetings and events annually and enjoys meeting and working with different and wonderful types of people. “Planning meetings is work, but it's fun work,” Walker says.
Planning the Production
Walker's attention to detail makes her meetings special, but they are best known for flamboyance and flair, which have become a Jackie Walker trademark. Her goal is for attendees at her meetings to walk away saying, “Wow!”
Walker typically chooses a theme and makes sure it is carried out in all aspects of the meeting. For example, she once organized a luncheon at the Chattanooga Convention Center around a Gone With The Wind theme. The chef, who had worked with Jackie in the past, cringed when he thought about what she might have in store for him. It wasn't long, however, before he caught the spirit of the meeting and served a family-style meal with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, turnip greens, corn bread, and peach cobbler for the more than 500 women who attended.
On display at the event was the largest and most elaborate collection of Gone With The Wind memorabilia in existence. The items were so valuable that 24-hour armed security was hired to watch the collection. Women came in antebellum gowns, and the meeting was a grand occasion that attendees still talk about.
Sticking Around for the Next Act
Walker credits RCMA for giving her some of the ideas and contacts that help make her meetings shine. She says that she has found RCMA to be a great resource, and she has enjoyed the annual conference over the past 11 years because it presents stimulating speakers, practical tutorials, innovative social functions, and a major exhibition. It has given her the tools, she says, to think outside the box when planning her own conferences.
Shortly after the 1999 RCMA Conference in Columbus, Ohio, she learned a different kind of lesson: that, as Winston Churchill once said, “Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.”
After enjoying all the sessions and functions of that year's conference, Walker and her husband boarded the plane and headed for home, but Walker didn't feel quite right. When they arrived in Chattanooga, some of the same feelings came back as they rushed from the plane to the luggage corral.
When they finally got into the car, her husband felt that even though it was almost 11 in the evening, they should go straight to the hospital to visit a critically ill patient, Dr. Lewis J. Willis, their dear friend and former RCMA board member. Upon entering, Walker saw a young nurse who recognized her and asked her to step inside. Jackie didn't leave that night. Within 24 hours, she had triple-bypass heart surgery. The imminent death of their friend had saved her life.
During her recovery, Walker analyzed what she has accomplished so far, and which goals have yet to be fulfilled. A scripture lodged in her heart: “Remember how fleeting is life.” (Psalm 89:4, NIV). “Life is filled with things we cannot do anything about, but which we are supposed to do something with,” she says. Remembering Churchill's saying, Walker continues to turn her face to the strong wind and soar.