CHERRY HILL Joyce Alexander Walker, 60, the first African American elected to the Cherry Hill Township Council, died Saturday, Dec. 28, after battling cancer, according to local officials.
Even before her historic election in 1997, Mrs. Walker displayed her dedication to her community, they said.
"She was a citizen in every sense of the word," said Eric Kipnis, who befriended Mrs. Walker when both worked on President Obama's 2008 campaign. He called her "a fighter for all the right reasons."
Mrs. Walker, who grew up in East Orange, graduated from Princeton University in 1975 with a bachelor's degree in economics and earned an MBA from Rutgers-Newark in 1979.
She married Felton Walker in 1989.
For more than two decades, she and her husband managed the family-owned Multifacet Inc., a wholesale distributor of industrial products in Cherry Hill. The business sold janitorial supplies, safety products, construction materials, and hospitality supplies.
As a business owner in the township, Mrs. Walker wanted Cherry Hill to be business-friendly. She was active on the Cherry Hill Economic Development Council. She also served on the township Planning Board and was a member of the Cherry Hill African American Civic Association. Her leadership caught the attention of then-Mayor Susan Bass Levin.
"I asked her to run for council," Levin said Sunday. "I knew she would be a great councilwoman. She was committed to involving people and believed that government should be open."
Mrs. Walker served as a councilwoman until 2005, with her second term coming to a controversial end when the Democratic Party refused to support her for reelection.
At the time, Rick Shapiro, then head of Cherry Hill's Democratic committee, said the decision was less about Mrs. Walker and more about needing new leadership.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Walker pushed forward and continued her civic duties.
"I am a strong woman who thinks about ideas, who thinks about things, who looks at things critically, then works as a team member," she told The Inquirer at the time.
One of Mrs. Walker's signature achievements was the creation of the Cherry Hill library on Kings Highway.
"She really felt it was important we have one library that also serve as a community center," Levin said.
In 2011, Mrs. Walker was elected to a three-year term on Cherry Hill's Board of Fire Commissioners. She was board chairwoman this year.
Last year, she was chosen to be a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. It was a dream come true, friends said.
"She was already undergoing chemo, but she was determined to go" to the convention, Levin said. And she did.
Mrs. Walker was serving as co-chair of the local Democratic Party at the time of her death.
Cherry Hill Mayor Chuck Cahn issued a proclamation last month designating Nov. 5, 2013, as Joyce Alexander Walker Day in recognition of her public and community service. Cahn's proclamation described Mrs. Walker as "a longtime friend and public servant whose passion for life and community has been an inspiration to all who know her."
On Sunday, Cahn released a statement on Mrs. Walker's death that read, in part:
"Her warmth, generosity, and zest for life and action were infectious . . .. She inspired everyone who knew her, and that is how I will forever remember her."
Said Dan Keashan, spokesman for Camden County:
"Joyce was a foundation in the Cherry Hill community. Her efforts will be missed not only in Cherry Hill but throughout South Jersey."
Mrs. Walker is survived by her husband, Felton; her mother, Edna Alexander; and her sister, Donna Alexander.
Funeral arrangements were being finalized Sunday evening by the Schetter Funeral Home in Cherry Hill.
In lieu of flowers, the family requested donations be made to Samaritan Hospice or the American Cancer Society.
Mrs. Walker will be entombed in the mausoleum at Locustwood Memorial Park in Cherry Hill.