Dictionaries define retirement as “withdrawing from one’s position or occupation.” How does one retire from being an advocate?
The inimitable Linda Winston will be retiring from the Action Alliance at the end of December after twenty years at the coalition. Linda and I came up in the movement to end sexual violence and intimate partner violence during the same time period and our paths have intertwined for nearly four decades. Thinking back, there are a few things we learned that Linda carried with her all through these years, things that have made her an awesome advocate.
Linda learned to listen (deeply) and believe; she knows that each person has a story that must be heard and respected and she has never hesitated to give of herself to listen and value others. She learned that one role of an advocate is to help survivors to always have a “Plan B” just in case “Plan A” doesn’t work—and she continues to pull Plans B, C and D out of her pocket as needed around the coalition offices (after a brief period of grumbling)!
The training we received forty years ago helped us to recognize the depth of the roots of white supremacist patriarchy upholding violence, and also gave us a few of the tools to work on digging them out while making room for the deeper, healthier, indigenous roots to grow. Linda loved the practice of caucusing—those with a minority voice coming together to amplify a message to the majority. She taught many a young activist the value and the process of building consensus. She embraced feminist politics and the power of a protest. That won’t be ending anytime soon. Linda will always be an advocate!
Still, she does get to retire from her position as Assistant to the Executive Director, and we celebrate her retirement with great joy (and a few tears, and a bit of worry about how we will get along without her!) Linda has approached retirement the way that she has approached every position she has ever held at the Action Alliance, and there have been a few. First, she gave us three years notice. She’s not impulsive! As the date got closer (about a year away) Linda worked with a coach to talk through her hopes and fears for the transition, to make some plans and set some goals, and then she set to work achieving every one of those goals. Linda likes to talk things through—and make a plan!! Then she started going through 20 years of accumulated files (hers and everyone else’s!), recycling and shredding and archiving and making carefully organized stacks to pass along to the rest of us. She sure was not gonna leave a mess!
In recent months Linda has stopped paying attention in meetings. It isn’t uncommon for her to tell us to just “do whatever you want” with a laugh as she realizes she won’t have to implement decisions being made. Every once in awhile she makes a death joke – and we’re all trying to catch up with this newfound area of humor. Evenings and weekends Linda has been hanging out with a new group of folks with whom she’ll be spending more time after she leaves the Action Alliance—Hospice Volunteers and Death Doulas. Linda will be joining their ranks as an advocate for individuals, families and communities as they face the end of life—opening up options for experiencing death as a natural and important part of our human experience.
Linda is a Lifetime Member and lifetime advocate and we’ll be seeing her around—hopefully for years to come. We will be honoring her this week, and we invite you to join us by making a contribution in her honor. She also loves an old-fashioned card, so if you would like to send one with your good wishes for her retirement you can mail it to 1118 West Main Street, Richmond, VA 23220!
Kristi VanAudenhove is the Executive Director of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She has been a leader in coalition work, advocacy and policy for nearly 40 years.