LYNNWOOD — Neighbors recently posted a large paper sign at the entrance to a cul-de-sac near Meadowdale High School.
It read, “Welcome to Wallyhood.”
That’s a nod to Wally Webster II, a retired banker who has lived here since 1979.
Webster, 71, grew up in the segregated South. He saw his parents encounter barriers to voting and then observed people who wouldn’t bother to register. That fueled an interest in politics and activism. These days, he’s a trusted friend and adviser to Lynnwood’s mayor and has the ear of just about anyone in local elected office.
He calls himself a “type Double-A personality.”
Originally from Alabama, Webster moved to Pasco as a teen. He couldn’t believe how much discrimination existed there, too, not in law but in practice.
Webster began organizing marches and protests, with a focus on housing and employment opportunities. Before he was of voting age, he coordinated door-to-door registration drives. He also led an effort in Pasco to ensure that black elementary students weren’t isolated within one school, and he helped obtain grant money to hire that city’s first black police officer.
Through politics, Webster met Dan Evans, who was then running for another term as governor. Webster opened a local office for the candidate’s campaign.
After high school, he was facing draft into the U.S. Army and decided to volunteer for the Air Force instead. He served in Japan during the Vietnam War. He returned to Tri-Cities and started community college on the G.I. Bill.
As the years passed, Webster decided it wasn’t enough anymore for him to criticize social institutions for how they treated, paid and promoted people of color.
“My thought then was I have protested and marched and demonstrated from the outside looking in,” he said. “I thought if I could get on the inside, I could facilitate change more effectively.”
Webster was hired as the director of affirmative action for Central Washington University in Ellensburg in the early 1970s. He finished his bachelor’s degree in accounting and business and also earned a master’s in organizational behavior.
He liked math because the answers depended on accuracy, not speed, he said. He took longer than his peers to work out problems, but it was a subject where stubbornness paid off.
Eventually, he ended up working as an employment recruiter. In talking to other recruiters, he accidentally got himself recruited. He was hired at a bank in Seattle, again overseeing affirmative action efforts.
The economists and mortgage advisers at the bank suggested he move his young family to south Snohomish County.
He stayed in banking for 31 years and retired as a senior vice president.
His involvement over the years has included serving on his church leadership board and the city of Lynnwood’s diversity commission. Lately he has been talking to the police department about needed outreach on race-related issues. He also is helping with Lynnwood’s new sister city program with a town in South Korea.
A few years ago, Webster got to know Nicola Smith, who is now Lynnwood’s mayor. He served as her assistant campaign treasurer in 2013. He also spoke at her first State of the City address in 2014 and at a July peace rally organized by the city.
He sees an ongoing need “to tell the Lynnwood story,” he said. He and the mayor’s husband have been volunteering together. They take pictures of trails, wildlife and construction projects for the city to use in promotional materials.
He never wanted to live among strangers, and he takes pride in his neighborhood. The place dubbed “Wallyhood” on that temporary sign is where neighbors share fresh homemade blueberry pie, and where a few beers get sipped among friends on the sidewalk on holiday weekends.
He and his wife, Martha, have been married 47 years. Their daughters, Demetriah and Denae, graduated from Meadowdale High School and the University of Washington. Grandson Tyson, 8, was hanging out with Webster earlier this week before football practice.
Webster takes the boy with him to City Council meetings and political chats with friends. He wants his grandson to know how government works, “and that you need to be involved in it,” he said.
“In order for it to get better when you are an adult,” Webster said, “you’ve got to make something happen, so this place is better than it was.”
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; email@example.com; @rikkiking.