JACKSON — Former Mississippi First Lady Ava Carroll Overton Waller, 87, of Jackson, died yesterday at Manhattan Nursing Home after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s.
Funeral services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31, at First Baptist Church, Jackson. Visitation will be in the Fellowship Hall of the church from 11 a.m. until the funeral service that day.
Waller was the widow of former Gov. William L. (Bill) Waller. They were married for 61 years.
The former Mississippi First Lady leaves a legacy of historic preservation. She spearheaded efforts to restore the Governor’s Mansion. The executive residence, built in 1842, had fallen into such disrepair that former Gov. John Bell Williams and his family moved out in 1971. Gov. Waller was in office 1972-1976. During that time, Carroll Waller led efforts for the architecturally correct restoration of the Governor’s Mansion and the construction of the neoclassical gardens, which surround the Mansion. Although the Waller family lived in the executive residence for only a few months, their efforts preserved the landmark for the enjoyment of future generations. Carroll Waller spearheaded efforts to have the Mansion designated a National Historical Landmark, which was the second executive residence in the nation so designated.
She also provided leadership for the purchase and restoration of the historic Manship House in Jackson.
For these projects, she received an Award of Merit from the Mississippi Historical Society in 1980.
Waller and Dr. David Sansing co-authored the book The History of the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion, with the proceeds used for the upkeep of the Governor’s Mansion.
As First Lady, Waller was also instrumental in securing passage of legislation, which designated Mississippi’s state animal as the white-tailed deer; a state fish, the large-mouthed bass; a state water mammal, the porpoise; a state sea shell, the oyster; and a state water fowl, the wood duck. At her request, a beautiful red rose known as the Mississippi Rose was hybridized for the state. The Carroll Waller Camellia was hybridized especially for her. These and native plants of distinction are part of the landscape of the Mansion grounds.
She gave leadership to the creation of a learning resources system in the Department of Education, including provisions for the evaluation of all children suspected of having learning disabilities. She served as National Library Week chairman and sponsored the Mississippi Library Commission’s bicentennial project, the collecting of autographed books by Mississippi authors for the Mansion. She served as chairman for numerous organizations across the state. Her service included two five-year terms on the Mississippi Arts Commission, Keep Mississippi Beautiful Committee, Board of the Municipal Art Gallery, the Board of the Mississippi Historical Society, the Board of Bookfriends of the University Press and Regent of the D.A.R. Rebecca Cravat Chapter of Jackson. She was a former member of the Board of the Mississippi Baptist Historical Commission and the Board for Christian Conciliation Service.
In 1974, she received the Centennial Award of Excellence from Blue Mountain College. Mississippi College awarded her the Service to Humanity Award in 1976, an honorary doctorate degree in 1978 and the Order of the Golden Arrow in 1980.
Waller was born in McComb on Aug. 8, 1927, to the late Dr. Clayton Justice Overton and Edith Watkins Overton. She graduated from Central High School in Jackson and from Mississippi College, with distinction.
She was an instructor at Belhaven College and a sales associate at the House of Overton until devoting her full-time attention to her growing family and the political career of her husband.
Waller was a third-generation member of First Baptist Church, Jackson. It was there that she met her future husband. She was a member of the Hope and Joy Sunday School class for almost 60 years. She also served as president of the Women’s Missionary Union and the Ava Burton Watkins Circle.
She is survived by two sisters, four sons, and 14 grandchildren. Her sisters are Joy Overton Holmes of Madison and Gloria Overton Martin of Madison, Florida. Her children and grandchildren include: Chief Justice William L. Waller Jr., and his wife, Charlotte, of Jackson, and their three children, William L. Waller III, M.D., Jeannie (Jon) Zieren and Clayton J. Waller; Robert O. Waller and his wife, Margaret, of Jackson, and their six children, Joy Waller, Robert O. Waller Jr., Madeline Waller, Millie Waller, Ava Burton Waller and Maggie Waller; Edward C. Waller, and his wife, Bae, of Jackson, and their two daughters, Emma Carroll Waller and Dannie Waller; Donald E. Waller and his wife, Yonnie, of Jackson, and their three children, Anne Overton Waller, Lucy Waller and Don Waller Jr.
She was preceded in death by her parents, her husband, her daughter, Gloria Joy Waller, and her brother, Clayton Justice Overton Jr., M.D.
In lieu of flowers, the family welcomes donations to the Gloria Joy Waller Scholarship Fund at Mississippi College, P.O. Box 4005, Clinton, MS 39058, or the web address www.alumni.mc.edu/waller_memorial.
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