WC People is an ongoing series of profiles featuring people connected to Westminster-Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay. Our community brings together people from all walks of life with amazing stories to tell. We are proud to share them with you.
1978 was a pivotal, and tragic, year for Emily Filer.
Her daughter, Lee, died at age 16 from Hodgkin’s disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system.
That moment ignited a passion in Emily that would lead her to a life of service to her community.
Before Lee died in the summer of that year, she and nine of her friends began Lee’s Friends, an organization dedicated to offering emotional and practical support to cancer patients and their families facing the fear and uncertainty of diagnosis and treatment.
Thanks to Emily’s drive and determination, Lee’s Friends grew and became recognized throughout Virginia and the nation as an outstanding non-profit. In 1982, Emily traveled to the White House, as Lee’s Friends was one of 16 agencies chosen from 2,300 nominations to receive the President’s Volunteer Action Award.
“Lee inspired the program, and it’s our job to carry it out,” Emily says. “It’s a living memorial to her. We work with all ages and stages of cancer and have been able to help thousands of people. We started with no volunteers and no money, but thanks to the cause and the dedication of our friends, we have won national recognition.”
After 23 years of service, Emily retired from Lee’s Friends in 2001; but her dedication to the region has never stopped.
She was a member of the board of trustees at Virginia Wesleyan College for 20 years; member, past president and now honorary member of the Junior League of Norfolk-Virginia Beach; vice chair of the Mayor’s Commission on Aging in Virginia Beach, just to name a few of her accomplishments.
In 2010, she received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters (L.H.D.) from Providence Bible College and Theological Seminary for her volunteerism.
Her dedication to others has continued at Westminster-Canterbury. During her eight years on the WC Board of Trustees, she learned a great deal about the community and knew she wanted to make it her home.
“When I retired from Lee’s Friends, I went back to school and became an associate chaplain for Sentara, working in five different hospitals,” Emily says. “I loved it, and I continue my work here as a pastoral caregiver and chaplain in the Hoy Center.”
Emily has a shadow at Westminster-Canterbury - her toy poodle Mango! When you see Emily, Mango is usually not far behind. “She’s eight pounds and a complete character,” Emily boasts. “Everyone, from staff to residents, has fallen in love with her.”
Emily can’t imagine calling anywhere other than Westminster-Canterbury home.
“When I was part of the Virginia Beach Commission on Aging, I saw every potential community in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, and I actually lived in both cities for long periods,” Emily says. “But, once I visited Westminster, there was no question. I’m able to do everything I love and explore new interests too. I love playing Sjoelbak – I’d never heard of it and now it’s one of my favorite pastimes!”