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Rev. Willetta Brand Heising, 93, died Thursday, January 28, 2016, in Williamsburg.
The community says goodbye to an equal-rights’ pioneer who advocated for women and children, especially those without a voice.
Born July 1, 1922, in Estacada, Oregon, Heising viewed education as a never-ending journey. She received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Washington in 1946, a master’s degree in divination from Yale Divinity School in 1977 and a master’s degree in theology from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond in 1991.
At a time when many people of her generation were planning their retirements, Heising was planning the next stage of her career and became ordained at St. Stephen Lutheran Church on her 59th birthday. The reverend spent the next four years working as pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Franklin, then returned to Williamsburg and fulfilled her quest to aid those in need.
“Willetta was an important member of our congregation. She was a pioneer of women who were ordained as pastors,” said Andy Ballentine, pastor of St. Stephen Lutheran Church.
Heising advocated for those in distress as she tended to women and children who had fallen victim to sexual abuse and domestic violence. She and a few others gathered at St. Stephen Lutheran Church and formed the original Williamsburg Task Force on Battered Women.
The group moved around and functioned out of different churches until ultimately moving to their own space and later being renamed Avalon: A Center for Women and Children in 1990.
“She was very interested in bringing a voice to those who had no voice, especially children,” Ballentine said. Fueled by compassion and a calling to assist those in need, Heising was also a founding member of Williamsburg Hospice.
Heising ran a popular Bible study group out of her home every Monday for 25 years. An avid reader, she was always in tune with what was going on in the world.
“She had many newspapers and periodicals that she read. She would open her class with current events. She would keep us up to date with many topics and other world religions, not just our own,” said Dianne Harris, a friend.
Willetta was preceded in death by her husband of 60 years, Kenneth William Heising. She was the mother of Willetta L. Heising of Dearborn, Michigan; Kenneth (Theresa) Heising of Fairfax Station; Evelyn (J. Thomas) Ford of Appomattox; Ellen (David) Barlow of Charlottesville; and John (Jessica) Heising of Richmond; as well as many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Friends and family will gather Saturday to celebrate the woman who tirelessly served her community. A funeral service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at St. Stephen Lutheran Church, 612 Jamestown Road, with a reception to follow.
In lieu of flowers the family suggests memorial gifts to the Alzheimer’s Association, Avalon, Williamsburg Hospice or St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Williamsburg.
Please leave online condolences for the family at Nelsen Funeral Home.
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