Army’s storyteller retires

Golden State author and journalist Judy Vaughn concludes 27 years of Salvation Army service.

by Jennifer Byrd – 

The Salvation Army is so much a part of Judy Vaughn’s life that even when she was being interviewed for a story about her retirement from the organization, an ARC truck pulled up at her next door neighbor’s house.

A small wink and nudge perhaps from the Almighty. But no doubt a gentle wave from an organization that according to Judy, “has been an important part of my life.”

She was introduced to the Army in the early 1970s by former San Francisco Board member Graham Kislingbury. She worked as public relations director in San Francisco until the mid-70s, when she left to work for the United Way. But the Army tugged at her heartstrings, and she came back in 1982. And so, for a total of 27 years, Judy has helped tell the Army’s story to the public.

Among her many accomplishments, Judy coordinated the annual Celebrity Bell-Ringing Day at Union Square—a community awareness event—involving local radio and television personalities and other persons of note in supporting charity to those most in need during the holiday season. The event recently celebrated its 25th anniversary.

A turning point in Judy’s career was providing public relations for and actively participating in the disaster relief work for the victims of the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City and 1986 in El Salvador. “We mobilized so fast and got people involved,” she said. “We took a team of 49 volunteers down to Mexico City and ultimately raised $1,000,000 to build a clinic in one of the poorest barrios in the city. Six other medical teams from the Western Territory participated. We went places no one could go.”

She remembered fondly a Christmas party the Army threw for the children living in the barrio. The day after, she returned home to San Francisco to see front page stories about the Army’s work in The San Francisco Examiner, The San Jose Mercury News, and television news coverage, done by reporters who had come with them.

“It was the height of journalism being out there on the front lines,” the former reporter said. “It was very exciting.”

Judy worked both the Mexico City and El Salvador disasters with Golden State Divisional Commander Major Joe Posillico, who was then the EDS coordinator.

“She knew how to take stories of these experiences and make them real,” he explained. He remembered that whenever there was a major disaster Judy’s first words were, “Are we going?!”

Judy thrived on working for an organization that stood for something.

“I like to be around people who believe in something,” she said. “I have learned from Salvationists, and I hope I have contributed to the dialogue.”

Still passionately committed to telling the Army’s story, Judy continues the dialogue in her recently published book, The Bells of San Francisco, a delightful and educational look at the work of The Salvation Army in the City by the Bay, the Army’s first outpost on the West Coast. And with her new venture as an historical walk tour guide of San Francisco, she will no doubt be telling the story of the Army for many years to come.

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