Debra Jane Griggs

November 11, 1953 - November 2, 2023

Memorial Gifts & Donations

On Thursday, November 2, 2023, Debra Jane Griggs (69) was greeted at the Rainbow Bridge by hundreds, if not thousands, of animals that she touched and impacted during her lifetime.  After a long successful battle with metastatic breast cancer, Debra passed away peacefully due to complications from the disease cachexia, for which research and treatment is desperately needed.

To know Debra Griggs was truly a gift to humans and critters alike.  She was a brilliant light for so many people, and a driven animal advocate in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and beyond.  Debra was a huge source of contagious energy, a true leader and admired by people from all walks of life.  Debra was always poised and impeccably dressed, but never afraid to fight for the many issues to which she dedicated her life.  Some would say that Debra looked stunning in her pearls scaling a fence to save a chained dog.

Debra is survived by her husband of 43 years, Steve Ballard of Norfolk, VA; sister Brenda (Griggs) Timmer of Peterstown, WV; and her ‘pups’ Cotton and Lila.  She was predeceased by her parents, Carvel and Ellen Griggs of Peterstown, WV; and her past ‘pups’, who are too numerous to list.  Debra had multiple nieces and nephews:  Michelle (Cary) Nothnagel, Tia Williams, Emily (Bob) Sayers, Sarah (Mike) Bradshaw, Lori (Joe) Furrow, Rob (April) Williams, Ben (Liz) Ballard, Phillip Ballard and Rhett Ballard.  Debra has multiple great nieces and nephews who treasured their “Aunt Debbie”.

Debra grew up in Peterstown, WV, was a tomboy, played flute in the senior band, was a member of the honor society, as well as a cheerleader.  Most especially, she was well known for her beautiful vocal talent.  She sang with various musical groups, beginning at the age of 14, that ranged from an all-girls group (The Blue Bells), to rock and roll bands managed by her father (Classical Vantage, The Blue Diamonds, and The Jacks).  Debra went on to study vocal performance at Converse College, Radford University, Memphis State University and the Vienna International Music Center where she focused on opera performance.  Debra performed in various operas ranging from “Madama Butterfly” to “Tosca” and sang mezzo soprano as a finalist for the Metropolitan Opera.  She continued to perform, even after leaving the opera world, in various church choirs as a paid vocalist in Memphis, TN, Clarksdale, MS and Norfolk, VA.

Debra and Steve began their life together in Blacksburg, VA, moving to Bristol, VA, Memphis, TN, Clarksdale, MS and finally settling in Norfolk, VA in 1982.  Deciding to leave her career as an opera singer, Debra decided to pursue a career in real estate sales, where she thrived, receiving perennial awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award.  Early in her real estate career, reconnected with her love for dogs, she and Steve adopted their first pup together from the Norfolk SPCA.  That shepherd-mix pup was called Jasper, and she sparked an exponential growth in Debra’s love for animals.  She and Steve started to rescue wayward dogs and find forever homes for them with inspiration and guidance from Jasper.  Debra’s passion for rescuing animals in need motivated her to reach out to other like-minded rescuers and organize a charitable rescue group known as Animal Rescue of Tidewater (ART), where she served as its long-time President.  Later, under Debra’s influence and direction, ART decided to shift its focus to providing financial resources for people of limited means who needed help to provide medical care for their beloved pets.  With this strategic change, ART became Animal Resources of Tidewater.  This brilliant idea reduced the need for rescue and sheltering by enabling pets to stay with the guardians who loved them.

Debra’s passion for animals continued to grow and she saw a need for improving the conditions, operation and save rates at Virginia public and private shelters.  Debra started working with municipal leaders, animal welfare advocates and state legislators to improve the adoption rate at Virginia shelters and the living environment for animals everywhere.  She found a new calling as an animal welfare advocate, recruiting legislators to introduce bills in the General Assembly to save the lives, and reduce the suffering, of companion animals.  She lobbied elected leaders tirelessly and patiently to adopt such bills to eliminate the tethering of dogs, to require that the purpose of private animal shelters be finding permanent adoptive homes for pets, to treat pit bulls fairly and with compassion, to prohibit leaving dogs out in extreme weather conditions, to promote trap, neuter and return for feral cats, to eliminate animal fighting and to ban fox penning, among many others.  She led the efforts to promote the adoption of these measures and became a greatly admired leader of animal welfare advocates across Virginia.  In the face of great resistance to these compassionate initiatives, Debra was always respectful and gracious but also determined and relentless.  She gained the respect of legislators who trusted her honesty and admired her advocacy.  Debra served with distinction for many years as the President of the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies, where she received a Lifetime Achievement Award for the animals’ lives that were saved through her efforts.  Debra was always more focused on recognizing and applauding the work of others than on any focus of her own efforts and she initiated awards for many other advocates for animals.

Debra’s activism was not just with animals, it actually began in the late 1980’s when a close friend contracted the AIDS virus.  Debra also became a voice to promote awareness and secure funding for research to cure the disease and to support those that had contracted the virus.  She eventually served as a Trustee of the Board of the AIDS Fund, Inc. and was awarded recognition for her devoted and invaluable services with the Ryan White HIV Care Consortium.

Realizing that she had a tremendous passion for service to others, just as her mother, Debra joined the Junior League of Norfolk-Virginia Beach, Inc., developing her service and leadership skills, and eventually serving as President and Sustainer.  She was also elected to a two-year term on the Board of the Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc.

As an active member of the Ascension Episcopal Church in Norfolk, VA, Debra accepted an appointment to serve on the church Vestry, and eventually served as a Senior Warden.  She also volunteered with the Altar Guild.  Debra treasured her church family.

Debra was a remarkable friend and, as a result, had innumerable friends.  Her integrity, loyalty, thoughtfulness and caring endeared her to many people. If you became a friend of Debra Griggs, she was there for you, always, regardless of the nature of your needs or her own needs.  If she could not satisfy the need herself, she knew, or would find, someone who could.  She was a valuable resource to all she knew, in every walk of life.  Debra was dedicated to her causes, her family and friends.  Debra was the family member who loved her family unconditionally and treasured each one dearly.  As one of her dear friends said, “To be in Debra’s world was to be validated.  To be heard and respected and guided.”

A memorial service is being planned for 2PM, December 16, 2023 at the Ascension Episcopal Church at 405 Talbot Hall Road, Norfolk, VA to celebrate her inspiring life, and will be open to all of her family and friends.  An opportunity to share a few words with the attendees will be offered to a few that have the desire to do so.  Further details will be provided here at a later date, and you may check the Facebook page of Debra Griggs or Steve Ballard. In lieu of flowers, consider making a donation to Animal Resources of Tidewater

Some of Debra’s additional accomplishments:

  • Graduate of Leadership Hampton Roads and The Civic Leadership Institute
  • Served on the FIRST Norfolk Animal Advisory Board
  • Instrumental in bringing to Hampton Roads the first Best Friends No More Homeless Pets Conference
  • The Animal Welfare Coalition of Hampton Roads
  • Tidewater AIDS Crisis Task Force
  • Women’s Multicultural Coalition
  • Chairwoman of the Converse College Alumni Club in Norfolk
  • Norfolk Animal Advisory Committee
  • Norfolk’s City Council for Animal Welfare Board of Review
  • Successfully advocated the ending of euthanasia based strictly on dog breed
  • Received Thomas M. Ammons, III Award for Animal Welfare
  • Featured in several publications for her success in animal advocacy: Tidewater Women, Best Friends, Virginian Pilot
  • Traveled and participated in rescue and relief efforts for affected animals after natural disasters struck in WV, LA, and NC.

Cremation and Funeral Services of Tidewater is assisting her family. Please share memories and/or condolences at



Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Melinda LeBlanc See
13 days ago

Debra Griggs is a hero to me and to many in the Commonwealth, a true giant in the animal welfare community. Debra was tremendously helpful to me personally as a mentor and provided unwavering support to our efforts to transform our shelter in Harrisonburg. We will never forget your help and support, Debra 💕

With immense gratitude to Debra, I hope for comfort to her many friends and family, that we may continue this work on earth in her memory.

Melinda LeBlanc See

Elizabeth Reed
17 days ago

Steve and I send our most sincere condolences.
Debbie was an amazing lady and it was an honor to call her our friend for over 53 years when she graced our wedding guest with her lovely opera voice!

Debbie Donour
17 days ago

Such a moving and loving tribute to this beautiful soul. Her untimely passing leaves a hole in the hearts of so many people and animals. “And the creatures gathered ’round
And didn’t make a sound. And the angels cried” So sorry for your loss, Steve and family.

Robert (Bob) Ballard, Jr.
18 days ago

Deb was a special sister-in-law and friend. She loved my brother Steve and was very supportive of his work and interests, equally as diverse as her own. I was fortunate to spend some time with her in the last weeks of her courageous battle with cancer and then the effects of the treatments. Her faith was strong and she cared deeply about people as well as her beloved animals. As we softly prayed together she asked that I take Steve out for a break as a caregiver and constant companion. Debra had a tremendous reach with her care of animals.… Read more »

Robert (Bob) Ballard, Jr.
18 days ago

Deb was a special sister-in-law and friend. She loved my brother Steve and was very supportive of his work and interests, equally as diverse as her own. I was fortunate to spend some time with her in the last weeks of her courageous battle with cancer and then the effects of the treatments. Her faith was strong and she cared deeply about people as well as her beloved animals. As we softly prayed together she asked that I take Steve out for a break as a caregiver and constant companion. Debra had a tremendous reach with her care of animals.… Read more »

21 days ago

She was my hero. What a beautiful spirit.

Rick Ballard
21 days ago

Debra was a beautiful soul. Always looked for positive in everything. You always felt better in her presence. I am truly sorry for your lose.

Nancy Donham
22 days ago

We have lost a genuine lady. She was always present for those in need. Her lifetime work with animals will never be forgotten. May her soul rest in peace.

Jennifer O'Connor
22 days ago

Debra was an angel on earth. The world is a lessor place today.

Leigh Ann Erdman
23 days ago

My sincerest condolences and prayers to everyone who knew and loved Debra and supported her vision that helped thousands of people in crisis, care for their pets. Special prayers for her husband, Steve as he continues without his partner of 43 years, an entire lifetime. She was genuinely a good person, with a view on the big picture in the rescue community and she never lost sight despite the challenges. May we continue to honor her legacy and support her vision as we forge ahead without her beauty, grace and wisdom. She was the strongest of advocates for the struggling… Read more »

There are currently no services

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
Call Now Button