Ollivette Allisonnever had children of her own, but she cared for thousands of babies at the Carrie Steele-Pitts Home, a group home in southwest Atlanta.
Mrs. Allison the child had been a resident of the 26-acre refuge on Fairburn Road. She lived there while she earned a degree in social work at Atlanta University's School of Social Work. And after college, she worked there as a social worker and succeeded Mae Yates as executive director.
"The children come from various backgrounds, but a culture is created there that they soon embrace," said Wiley Bolden, a retired board member. "[Mrs. Allison] was the embodiment of love, the great mother who saw to it that the children received the kind of care a child would normally receive in a well-functioning family."
The devout member of Radcliffe Presbyterian Church USA lived by a motto: Do the best for the least of God's children because they did nothing to put them at Carrie Steele-Pitts.
"Her life was doing God's work for children," said a sister, Velma Tecola Farmer of Atlanta.
On Thursday, Ollivette Eugenia Smith Allison died from complications of a virus at Piedmont Hospital. She was 86. The funeral will be noon Saturday at Radcliffe Presbyterian Church USA. William Gayleano Murray and Son Funeral Home is handling arrangements.
Born in Eastman, Mrs. Allison was 12 when she and two brothers were sent to Carrie Steele-Pitts after their parents divorced in 1936. Clara M. Pitts, the group home founder, took a liking to the child and allowed her to remain at the facility after Mrs. Allison had reached the age to leave.
In 1950, Mrs. Allison was hired as the refuge's first social worker. She was its executive director from 1976 until her retirement in Oct. 2009. It's been estimated that she cared for more than 5,000 children at the facility founded in 1888 to provide for neglected, abandoned, abused and orphaned children.
In a May 2009 article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mrs. Allison said she didn't try to be a substitute mother or grandmother.
"The children come from all kinds of hurt and shocks and all kinds of disappointment, things you can't imagine a young child should have to bear," she said at the time. "So you do everything the best you can and you do it with consistency, persistence and a lot of patience, love and understanding."
Evelyn Lavizzo, the current executive director, said Mrs. Allison was a mother many times over.
"She was their beacon and guidepost, and she made sure things that were important to be successful were taught," she said. "She had walked in the same shoes of many of the children. Because of her leadership, Carrie Steele-Pitts never lost focus as a child-caring agency."
A nature lover, Mrs. Allison turned her yard into a bird sanctuary. She stocked an aquarium and collected vintage hairpins and elephant figurines.
The "Great Mother" was honored at the 2010 Legacy Gala, a fund-raiser for the group home that was held Saturday at the Georgia Aquarium. Mrs. Allison had hoped to attend.
"We had bought her a dress," her sister said.
Additional survivors include another sister, Helen Wilson of Atlanta.