Linda Strange Dillard, the first executive director of FAHI (Fayette Area Historical Initiative), has been laid to rest 11 years after a car crash that left her bedridden.
Dillard died Aug. 3, and her funeral was Saturday at St. John Baptist Church in Axton. She was buried in the Strange Family Cemetery in Cascade.
Dillard was the first executive director of FAHI, which started about 15 years ago. Simon Spencer, Tyler Millner and Ben Murdock were among the founders, according to Curtis Millner, who joined the board later, and Bulletin reports.
“She was instrumental in getting it started. It was her brainchild,” Millner said. “She was very passionate about it, and she worked very hard and often uncompensated. She was just determined to get it off the ground, and she did.”
Dillard had a knack for motivating people to be involved, he said, and “if she couldn’t get people to do things, she would do them herself.”
Propelled by Dillard, the early FAHI was involved in several community initiatives. It revived the June German Ball, holding several since the first it coordinated in 2005; joined in roundtable discussions and community meetings about promoting local history, including of the Fayette Street area; put out a history book; hosted art exhibits; and engaged graduate students for potential landscape designs for where FAHI was then set.
Johnsie Finney worked with Dillard on FAHI before FAHI was FAHI. They started out in a room at the back of the MHC Chamber if Commerce building before moving to the first freestanding location, a house on Fayette Street around 2005.
As executive director of FAHI, Linda worked in the center, but when she needed to go out for any reason she’d call Finney to take her place, Finney said.
Finney and Dillard also worked together to put on the June German Ball.
Dillard “was very tenacious,” said Faye Holland, chair of FAHI’s board of directors, “and she did a lot for the African-American community. She was a pioneer ... in expressing our history.”
“She wasn’t afraid to speak to nobody,” Finney said.
“She was very phenomenal,” Holland said. “I’m still in awe of the drive she had.”
It was on her way home from a June German Ball, on June 29, 2008, that Dillard was injured in a car accident. She had told Finney that she was going to head out for a family reunion, “and I said, ‘Linda, be real careful,’” Finney said.
At 11 p.m. Finney received a call with news that Dillard was in a wreck. She had swerved to avoid a deer, hit a tree and got stung by bees multiple times in the face, Finney said.
Finney said Dillard remained in a coma since the accident.
Finney said she would call Dillard every Feb. 2 to sing her “Happy Birthday to You.” Dillard’s sister would hold the phone up to her ear, she said, and would tell Finney afterward that “‘Her eyes brightened up like she knew it was you, though she couldn’t say nothing.’”
Finney went to the visitation before the funeral. “She looks like she’s rested for real,” she said.
A group of volunteers coordinated a 2-day “Community Support for Linda Dillard Fund” meal-a-thon a few weeks later at the United House of Prayer to raise money for her care.
In February 2009, FAHI dedicated a room in her honor. It was named the Linda Strange Dillard Computer Room, and its open house was in conjunction with the kickoff of the NAACP’s 100th anniversary.
In a 2013 letter to the Bulletin, Sanford Martin wrote that Dillard was one of his “unsung heroes related to the projects” of FAHI.
She was one of his personal friends, he wrote. She “would talk about the hours she spent working to get grants. She was so long-winded that when she started talking, sometimes, I’d actually have to dodge her when I was in a hurry.”
The FAHI Museum was Strange’s “dream of keeping the history of Fayette Street alive,” Gerald T. Holman Sr. wrote in 2011 in a letter to the editor when he was interim director of FAHI.
“Linda was a go-getter, especially for the youth,” wrote Gwen Strange on a Facebook post after Dillard’s death. “Linda was always keeping them active in positive things.”
Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.