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UPDATE: Christy Welliver, known as community activist, fighter for social justice, dies

Thursday, August 11, 2011 | 7:07 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Many things got in Christy Welliver's way, but she was always determined to try and make sure that she, and those around her, would find a way past those obstacles.

Ms. Welliver, 59, died late Tuesday at University Hospital after being in a coma. She had been hospitalized for about six weeks.

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Her friends and family surrounded her, as they had her entire life, said long-time friend, Cyndi Koonse.

Ms. Welliver had multiple sclerosis and had used a wheelchair since 1985.

Ms. Welliver, the daughter of former Missouri Supreme Court Judge and Sen. Warren D. Welliver, was an activist for many causes in Columbia, most notably for her outspokenness on equal rights for persons with disabilities.

Ms. Welliver was a co-founder and served as vice president of the PedNet Coalition alongside PedNet’s first president, Chip Cooper.

“When we met, I told her that me and some people were putting together an effort to create a much more integrated trail network; she loved the idea and wanted to participate in it,” Cooper said.

In many ways because of her personality, and in many ways because of her own disability, she advocated for and succeeded in making sidewalks and entrances more accessible to those in wheelchairs throughout Columbia, Cooper said.

Ms. Welliver was constantly working to make things better for others rather than for herself, Koonse said.

Ms. Welliver volunteered for 19 years at the University Hospital's Multiple Sclerosis Institute, and was the “go-to person,” said long-time friend and co-worker Deanna Harper.

“If someone had a hard time dealing with (multiple sclerosis), she could handle it and create a more positive outlook," Harper said. "She was always willing to do news interviews and take on the cause head-on. Because she had such a positive outlook about her (MS), she was the perfect role model and spokesperson."

Harper remembers that Ms. Welliver was not only a dedicated advocate for social issues, but also a dedicated and loving friend.

While Harper was cleaning out Ms. Welliver’s desk, she found a thank-you note that Harper’s children had written Ms. Welliver more than 15 years ago.

“That note — it just goes to show how much even the little things meant to her,” Harper said. “She kept it because she cared.”

Aside from her work with PedNet and the Multiple Sclerosis Institute, Welliver was involved with many other programs as well.

She was active with the Mid-Missouri chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the Public Transportation Advisory Commission, Family Counseling Center of Missouri, Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding Center and the Boone County Democratic Central Committee.

“Reflecting, I think about how much I’m going to miss her positive energy, her gentleness, her smile, her pure determination to live life to its fullest regardless of what tried to get in her way,” Cooper said.

Besides her dedication to equal rights and accessibility issues, Ms. Welliver is remembered for her deep passion for music.

Her “parrothead” fandom for Jimmy Buffett started early in life, when she was a neighbors of Buffett as a child in Key West, Fla.

It is even rumored that it was Ms. Welliver’s childhood hammock that was used in the artwork on one of Buffett’s album, Cooper said.

While she was in the hospital, 25 of some of her closest peers wrote testimonials about her life and her accomplishments, which can be viewed on PedNet’s website.

In one testimonial, former Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman, who worked with Ms. Welliver on many issues to make Columbia more accessible, wrote that she "was a beautiful person in every respect including appearance, spirit, personality and grit."

Hindman's testimonial continued, "Christy wanted to do everything that her physical condition would permit and in her very pleasant way fought barriers that prevented it. She wanted good sidewalks and pedways. She wanted and demanded accessibility as a matter of simple justice. In one of her final public acts, Christy appealed to the City Council for an accessible trail in a nature area so that she and others with disabilities could enjoy its benefits."

Sharon Page, a close friend, described when she first met Ms. Welliver 33 years ago and how they worked closely together.

"As her MS progressed, I was with her going through chemo, when they shaved off that gorgeous long hair, and ALL those puzzles we put together in her hospital room. When it became harder for her to get around we slowed down a bit. I'll always remember one night when she was walking with crutches. We were, perhaps, a tad 'over-served.- Christy enlightened me that she was unsure if she'd make it to my bathroom. I put her on my kitchen rug and pulled her through the house … probably one of the best laughs of our lives!"

Karen Grindler and the people of Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding Center wrote about the first time they saw Ms. Welliver and how she eventually served as a member of the board of directors for the center.

Grindler recounts on PedNet's website, "No matter what her challenges, every time I saw Christy she looked beautiful, was smiling and always had good things to say about life, Columbia and the people in it! ... I truly admire her zest for life and people and have always respected how everyone in this town loves her soooo much. She is a true Columbia icon, representing the good:) We all can only hope to accomplish what Christy has in making this world a far better place, especially Columbia Missouri. Thank you Christy!"

Quoting one of Buffett's songs, Grindler closed with the words "Mother, Mother Ocean I have heard your call."


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