Tami and Jess Willadsen: Mother-daughter pair loved by all

Friends and family members alike struggled to find the right words to describe the selfless personalities shared by the mother-daughter pair of Tami and Jess Willadsen.

Tami Willadsen was a leading advocate for her community with a singular tenacity and wit; Jess Willadsen displayed wisdom and maturity beyond the usual 10-year-old, accompanied by fiery red hair and a shining personality, said Tami’s sister and Jess’ aunt, Andrea Avery of Decatur.

“They embodied everything that was right in this world,” she said. “There’s not a person in this world who knew them that didn’t want to be more like them. They were perfect.”

Tami and Jess were strong supporters of nature. Last November, Tami became the director of philanthropy for the Nature Conservancy in Georgia, where she had worked for nearly 15 years conserving state land and waters. She also doubled as the organization’s mother figure, said Sherry Crawley, the organization’s communication director.

“She was our mother in the office,” she said. “She took care of us all. She was our heart.”

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Jess had her hand in nature conservation in a different way. Alarmed by a growing number of road-killed squirrels in her neighborhood, she drafted a petition and brought the issue to the attention of the Avondale Estates mayor’s office, which granted her a “Squirrel Crossing” sign that was proudly displayed in the Willadsens’ front yard, Avery said.

Tamara Kay Eifrid Willadsen and Jess Seda Willadsen died Saturday in a fire at their Avondale Estates home. Tami was 43 and Jess was 10.

Their memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Thursday at Avondale Estates First Baptist Church. A.S. Turner & Sons in Decatur is in charge of the arrangements.

In addition to her work with the Nature Conservancy, Tami served as chairwoman of the environmental non-profit EarthShare of Georgia. She was also a founding president of the Museum School Foundation, where she helped raise over $2 million for the school’s development, said Aspen Kron, board chairwoman of the Museum School of Avondale Estates.

“The campaign Tami built for us allows us to grow in that facility,” she said. “The relationships she built for us and the money she raised for us are two of her lasting legacies.”

Jess Willadsen, a fourth-grader at the Museum School, excelled in nearly every subject. Reading and writing were her favorites and she could “whip through a 300-page book like it was nothing,” Avery said.

Despite a devotion to her work and community, Tami Willadsen’s family and friends always came first. The love she shared with her husband Dave, who she met married in 1995, was fit for a fairy tale, Avery said.

“It was just one of those true, true loves,” she said. “Despite meeting at such a young age, Tami and Dave grew together and more and more in love. They were true soul mates.”

While their untimely deaths were tragic, both Tami and Jess Willadsen lived happy, joyful lives, according to the family. Tami’s selflessness touched the lives of many and Jess’ life, although short, was full of merriment.

“They had nothing but happiness,” Avery said. “Tami and Jess were the happiest of their lives when they left us.”

In addition to Avery, the two are survived by husband and father Dave Willadsen of Avondale Estates; son and younger brother Jack Willadsen of Avondale Estates; parents and grandparents Arlene Eifrid of Avondale Estates, Joe Eifrid and stepmother and step-grandmother Michele Eifrid, both of Stockbridge; and grandmother and great-grandmother Helen Bunnell of Stockbridge.

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