This is a guest blog and tribute written by Kate Kraft, Tyler Norris and Ian Thomas, all of whom worked closely with Jay Walljasper through America Walks and the Every Body Walk! Collaborative over the years.
Often times the world of walking advocacy can seem so small and insular despite the multiple disciplines and sectors it includes. One voice that helped walking and walkable communities gain broader appeal was Jay Walljasper. Sadly, Jay was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer in late fall 2020 and passed away peacefully on December 22nd.
Jay had a distinguished career as a journalist and editor, but we in the walking world knew him as the go to source when you wanted or needed a good story of an emerging place with an ability to shine a light on the multiple forces, the players and the series of events that shaped a community embracing change.
It is with great pride that we honor Jay Walljasper and his legacy of stories about the creation of great walkable places. Jay started writing stories for America Walks in 2012. He helped to chronicle the development of the EveryBody Walk! Collaborative, documented the growth of the National Walking Summits and showcased many communities where walking was becoming a priority.
In a classic way, Jay was compelled by the true, the good, and the beautiful. While his writings were often about place, they were rooted in life: nature, community, meaning, belonging, love. Among his many gifts was the depth of his curiosity. While raising a bushy eyebrow, Jay’s response on hearing something new or resonant was typically: …why is that, really?, or, …tell me more about how that actually worked? Or, how did that make you and others feel?
His inquiry was ever genuine and reverent, even when laughing in self-effacing irreverence. Jay was ever seeking the pith of the idea, the marrow in the bone. In his compelling narratives, he invited us to notice, to pay attention, to be more present in our lives. In this, he helped us all come more alive.
Jay didn’t want to write about those popular walking communities, he focused on the unsung and unknown places that were quietly improving safety, supporting healthy choices and creating public spaces that socially engaged every community member. In his work, he has provided us with the thinking of community leaders and the motivations behind the work. His stories are filled with ordinary people living in everyday places creating extraordinary communities.
Please enjoy some of Jay’s works and words on walking:
- America’s Walking Renaissance / America Walks
- The Path Forward / Every Body Walk!
- Walking Makes Strides in All Kinds of Communities / Every Body Walk!
- America’s Worst City for Walking Gets Back on Its Feet / Every Body Walk!
- Overcoming Barriers to Walking / Every Body Walk!
In one of his last published pieces of writing, this summer, he mused about his own personal “bucket list” in a typically creative and unique way – click here to read it. In his final weeks, he told his wife Julie that he felt his soul knew what was in his near future when he wrote this, even though his conscious mind did not.
Thank you Jay for the stories and the vision of what is possible.