Shirley Walker

A native of Kansas with its big sky and waves of grain, Shirley moved with her family to the rockies of Colorado when she was 13 years old where her parents established a new church site in the beautiful mountain state in a developing area north of Denver. Graduating a year early from high school she went to work for General Electric and by the age of 17 was in the managerial track on her way to a business career. While it was fun being the young bright star she felt no passion for the work. So on a government (love the USA!) poverty grant she headed off for college at age 19. Working full time through college to make ends meet, she graduated with honors 2 days after marrying the love of her life, Jim Walker, who was headed for the ministry. They moved to the then-free-education state of California (Jim's home state) where she completed her Master's in Education Administration as well as numerous California teaching, counseling and lifetime administration certifications while Jim completed his seminary degree and doctoral courses. Shirley loved working with students in the Los Angeles area successively as a teacher, counselor, head counselor of a 26- counselor team for the school district, vice-principal of a large high school and then Director of Secondary Education before her husband's work took them across the country to Pennsylvania. In the Keystone State she continued her career in education as the Assistant Superintendent of a school district in central Pennsylvania. An unexpected encounter resulted in Governor Thornburg appointing her to join his team as Director of Operations for the Office of Children, Youth and Families (OCYF) in the Department of Human Services (then Department of Public Welfare). Shortly thereafter, the Governor appointed Shirley to the position of Deputy Secretary of OCYF. She was in her mid-30s. The position was varied, political, challenging, and fulfilled her passion to help children. After Governor Thornburg's second term ended she stayed over for a 5-month transition then resigned to return to education. Instead, another chance encounter led her to PAR. "Come talk with us; see who we are." And in 1991 she joined the PAR family to head up this great association that has been the stimulus for advancements for people with intellectual disability and autism in Pennsylvania. She says "I cannot believe that I have been so amazingly fortunate to have had the opportunities that I have had to give fully everything I have had in my ability to give. What an absolute privilege it has been."    Her 46 year marriage to Jim, a former preacher turned physician turned Chief Medical Officer of the Geisinger Health System then Director of the Healthcare Innovation Centers for Seimens and then Cerner, has brought many joys. While helping to resettle refugees they found themselves mid-life adoptive parents of two infants from Moldova who have now grown to be pursuing fields in design and in education. As the leader of PAR, Shirley has emphasized the importance of collaboration, alliances, and bringing stakeholders together in a unified way to impact decisions that are critical for services to people with intellectual disability and autism and their families. With that focus, she has been instrumental in key victories throughout the years, taking the lead in convincing legislators to embrace disability issues and when needed using litigation as a last resort. PAR victories under her leadership include rate increases, restorations, preventing any reduction in rates over a number of years through settlement agreements, and shepherding the first rate increase in ten years just last year. She serves as a member of Board of Directors of ANCOR, the national provider association. Shirley has received numerous local, statewide and national awards for her work and efforts to make a better world for all people and especially for people with intellectual disability and people with autism.