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.