Charlotte Wilen, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, aunt, friend, mentor and community leader, passed away Friday, March 27, 2015, at the age of 93.
Mrs. Wilen will be remembered for her work improving pre- and post-natal health in Georgia and nationwide and for establishing programs committed to ending prejudice and discrimination. While volunteering at Grady Memorial Hospital over 40 years ago, Mrs. Wilen was struck by the preventable tragedy of inadequate prenatal care. She observed that a child not cared for before birth was behind already. The experience turned Mrs. Wilen into a tireless advocate for prenatal care for women in need. In 1991 she testified to the U.S. Congress: “Our focus can’t begin when children are half-grown. Indeed, our kids need us even before they are born. If I wanted to make a positive impact on the well-being of this world, I would start by making an impact on the life of a child. Every baby born in society is our baby. We share in everything that goes well for them and everything that does not.” Later, while working with statewide nonprofit Continuum, Mrs. Wilen led an effort that became federal law that no pregnant woman in labor can be turned away from a hospital emergency room. In 1992 she helped establish the Maternal and Child Health Institute to improve the availability, access and quality of prenatal health care of underserved populations and to push through legislation preventing “drive-through” deliveries in Georgia.
Once children were born, Mrs. Wilen fought for their right to live free of hatred and fear. In 1960, deep in the middle of the civil rights battle, Mrs. Wilen initiated the first integrated and interfaith youth meeting in Atlanta, the beginning of Operation Understanding, a dialogue and community action project partnered by the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization and the Atlanta YWCA. It was the first event of its kind in the United States and won a Parents Magazine Award for Community Service in 1961. For over 50 years Mrs. Wilen worked with groups like B’nai B’rith Women, later Jewish Women International, and Junior League of Atlanta to cure prejudice and discrimination through K-12 education and after-school programming.
More recently, Mrs. Wilen founded Embracing Differences, which sponsors public art exhibits that encourage frank dialogue about diversity and shared values. Her hope: to use art to help end disharmony, discrimination and prejudice. Mrs. Wilen was recipient of the U.S. secretary of health and human services’ National Community Leader Award and the prestigious Jefferson Foundation Award for Outstanding Public Service. Locally, Mrs. Wilen was recognized as one of the Ten Leading Ladies of Atlanta and received a Channel 11 Ones Who Care Award.
She was involved with and supported many community organizations, including the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Atlanta Ballet, the Atlanta Jewish Federation, the Atlanta Symphony and the High Museum. Mrs. Wilen believed what George Bernard Shaw wrote: “I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no brief candle for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.” Family and friends remember her for her attitude, her ability to laugh at herself, her passion, devotion and tremendous hard work. “A light has gone out in our lives,” say those close to her.
Mrs. Wilen was born Aug. 28, 1921. She was preceded in death by her husband of 54 years, Israel Wilen, with whom she founded Wilen Manufacturing Co. and served as vice president from 1942 to 1987. She is survived by daughter Susan Wilen; sons Joseph and Richard Wilen and their respective spouses, Nancy Wilen and Kate Wilen; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Sign the online guestbook at www.edressler.com. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Charlotte Wilen’s Good Beginnings Fund at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, 50 Hurt Plaza SE, Suite 449, Atlanta, GA 30303, 404-688-5525. Funeral services will be held Monday, March 30, 2015, at 10 am at The Temple, 1589 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta, with Rabbi Peter Berg officiating. After the funeral, a private family committal service will be held at Crest Lawn Memorial Park. Arrangements by Dressler’s Jewish Funeral Care, 770-451-4999.