Philanthropist and longtime Manhattan Beach resident Debbie Walmer died Oct. 9 due to lymphatic cancer. The beloved real estate agent, dubbed a "force of nature" and "gift to humanity" by family and friends, was 83 years old.
Walmer, who was diagnosed with lymphoma at the end of July, was best known for her dedication to American Martyrs Church in Manhattan Beach where she spearheaded a home tour fundraiser she founded for more than 40 years.
Many organizations benefited from her charitable endeavors and Walmer also contributed to the South Bay's volleyball community in addition to finding time for tennis, books and travel.
Walmer was born Nov. 30, 1936 in New York City, but her family moved to Los Angeles when she was a few months old. She graduated from Immaculate Heart High School and then from UCLA in 1957. She met her husband Barry during college and they married and moved to Manhattan Beach in 1959, according to her daughter Kim Sussman.
Sussman said her mother was a “role model for us to always do nice things for other people,” and she never missed attending sporting events for her children or grandchildren.
“You can always look up in the stands, or any event, and just know that she was there supporting you,” Sussman said.
Sussman said her mother’s door was open for everyone, whether it was for an end-of-the-year volleyball party or for a seasonal party.
“Everything was always done in her house and it was a great way for her to share with everyone, and see all the different generations of kids growing up and be there for them,” Sussman said.
Walmer’s son Tim said she was an “awesome” and fun mother and grandmother.
“That’s what I loved about her,” Tim said. “My mom was a force of nature.”
American Martyrs Church played a pivotal role in Debbie Walmer's life.
Walmer, who was at one time the president of the American Martyrs Parents Association, started the Sophisticated Snoops annual home tour, which celebrated its 46th year in 2019 and has raised more than $2.5 million for American Martyrs School.
Missy Ninnis said she became friends with Kim Walmer (Sussman) when they were in first grade around 50 years ago and is still part of the family. She was a student at American Martyrs and has been a teacher there for nine years.
Ninnis remembered Walmer as a generous person who was funny with a dry humor, someone who went to mass every day and always took care of others.
“She prayed for everyone, every day,” Ninnis said. “But when anyone needed anything she would find a way to make it happen for them.”
The devoted Catholic was also heavily involved in the nonprofit Sandpipers where she helped form what became the Holiday Homes Tour. The Holiday Homes Tour is now in its 28th year and will be a virtual experience for the first time in December. Walmer had been honored as the Sandpiper of the Year and had served as president of that organization.
The love of volleyball is part of the Walmer family.
After the death of Barry Walmer and his friend Bob Cleary, following a three-decade-long friendship, the BarryBob Invitational beach volleyball tournament was founded in 1999.
Sharon Wood, who had been friends with Walmer for more than 45 years, called her a “gift to humanity” in an email.
“She is the finest example of a generous, loving, smart, selfless and dedicated mother and South Bay community leader," wrote Wood. "Debbie's philanthropy is legend. I am a better person for having known her.”
Walmer is survived by her five children: Tim (and wife Megan), Doug, Kim (and husband Jeff), Marc and Chris (and wife Kashi) and eight grandchildren.
A memorial service for Walmer will take place at the American Martyrs Field on Thursday, Oct. 22, beginning at 2:30 p.m.
Attendees are asked to register online at americanmartyrs.org and arrive 30 minutes early with blanket, chair and wearing a mask.