Chris Wood, Contributing Writer
Lillie Estes, a community organizer and long-time Richmond activist, died of cardiovascular disease Jan. 31 at the age of 59.
Estes, a VCU alumna, graduated in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in administration of justice and public safety.
“The ACLU of Virginia was stunned at the sudden passing of civil rights activist Lillie Estes,” said Bill Farrar, ACLU of Virginia strategic communications director. “She touched and improved many lives through her social justice work and showed, leading by example, what we could accomplish when we invest in people. May she rest in power.”
Estes was a member of ALO Community Strategy, a consulting group, since 2008. On Jan. 8, Estes, along with dozens of other social activists, stood outside the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority office to protest the fact that Creighton Court’s public-housing residents had no heat for weeks in their apartments.
In 2016, she ran for mayor, campaigning on a platform of social justice. Estes told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “I’m going to be calling for active citizenship as we work to govern more effectively and more efficiently.”
Hours after she was found dead, Mayor Levar Stoney paid homage to Estes in his annual State of the City address, opening the speech with a moment of silence for Estes.
“Both [Estes] and [former] Mayor Kenney represent the best of Richmond,” Stoney said. “They were 150 percent dedicated and devoted to moving Richmond forward.”
Estes had been a member of the Mothers of Justice and Equality since 2006 and was presented with the Mothers of Courage Award from the group at its 2016 conference.
“Violence will stop within our community after the disinvestment of our community is restored and behavior rapport building among our neighbors begins anew,” Estes said when she received the award. “This re-engagement of behavior rapport development must be led in plain sight by the leaders of our community consistently.”
Her other son, Tobias Estes, is raising money on GoFundMe to put toward burial and funeral costs. The campaign surpassed its $10,000 goal and has since raised more than $12,000.
“It’s easy to echo how much the loss of her earthly presence means to the Richmond community,” wrote Iman Shabazz, who worked alongside Estes, in a guest column in Richmond Magazine after Este’s death. “Yet her work has left an unequivocal footprint in this city, the gravity of which has rippled across a national stage.”