Oct. 19, 1937 - Oct. 13, 2011
Amazing Grace, nee Hilda Graciela Viramontes of Chihuahua, Mexico, lived a life of liberation, first for herself and then others. Her parents, Jesus M. and Raquel Gomez Viramontes, moved the family when see was 6 to El Paso, where they lived in abject poverty. She worked at a drug store to pay her Catholic high school tuition as the family did not believe in education for girls. The nuns recognized her potential and soon after her graduation hired her to teach migrant workers English. A natural teacher, she taught grade school in Texas for six years without the benefit of a college education.
She married Don Thompson, had son Anthony, and after Don's service in Korea, settled in Walla Walla, where a second son, Thomas, was born. While her husband taught high school "Hilda" taught English as A Second Language courses at Walla Walla Community College, while earning her own Associates Degree in 1978. Undeterred by working full-time and raising a family, she set her course for a bachelor's degree from Western Washington University, which she achieved in 1981. A master's degree from Washington State University in 1984 followed. Simultaneous with her climbing the academic ladder, she developed adult educational programs at Walla Walla Community College addressing equity for women in the job market.
Her life's mission blossomed soon after her divorce and subsequent move to Salem, Ore., where she served as an Equity Specialist for the Oregon Department of Education. During her tenure (1985-92) she developed 17 centers for adult women serving 10,000, primarily single parents, displaced homemakers and economically disadvantaged women, providing childcare, education, transportation assistance and free medical insurance. Ninety-eight percent of program participants were launched into jobs or advanced vocational training. She presented workshops and gave speeches virtually every week all over Oregon and the Northwest as her Centers for Women's Equity became a sought-after
prototype. Her awards fill a fat file, among them Outstanding Adult Educator, State of Washington, 1979; Margaret Sanger Award, 1982; Outstanding Woman of the Year, 1986, Oregon State University.
"Hilda" co-facilitated a group for a year-long study of Joe Dominguez's How To Transform Your Relationship with Money and retired from her job at age 55. She taught and studied A Course In Miracles for 15 years and became a meditator in the Buddhist Tradition, which led her to change her name to Amazing Grace. She brought meditation to inmates at Oregon State Penitentiary weekly for 10 years. Her great heart put her smack dab in the middle of creating The Red Door Community, an always growing group of like-minded hearts, ready to celebrate, work and sorrow together. Generosity and genius defined her table and multitudes have enjoyed her delicious hospitality. Her last words to sons Anthony and Thomas who live elsewhere: "Get serious about community!"
Amazing Grace traveled to Egypt and Venice, trekking to the Mt. Everest base camp on her 60th birthday. She cruised the Caribbean, Hawaii, French Polynesia, Mexico, Belize and the Eastern Mediterranean, always with friends. Grace's life achieved perfect happiness when she met her partner, the warm and generous Bill Chisholm, five years ago. Together they created a beautiful home, garden and travel adventures.
Amazing Grace is survived by her partner, Bill Chisholm; sons, Anthony Valterra, Thomas E. Thompson and wife Lindsey; her adored and special grandson, Zander, age 12. She is also survived by brothers, Armando and Cesar Viramontes of El Paso; many nieces and nephews.
There will be a celebration of life, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011. Details to follow.