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 https://www.tmcfunding.com/funds/in-loving-memory-of-debra-jane-griggs/8772/.
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 CandFServices.com.
There are currently no services