Eileen was the son of Tom Kelley, a U.S. Army, and his wife, Zaida, who lived with him in the Philippines as a missionary for 17 years. During World War II she returned to Virginia and lived with an aunt. She met Jim, who was playing with the Army band at Fort Monroe. After the war, the couple briefly lived in New York City before relocating to Birmingham in 1946 where Jim opened a piano studio. Eileen, who had previously performed as a vocalist, took to making pottery and sculpture, often using the same coil and slab technique for both, and specializing in the depiction of operatic figures.
After a brief stay in Inglenook and in a Mountain Brook apartment, the couple bought a house in Homewood. The Walbert's became active in local civil rights issues through their friendship with Frederick and Anny Klaus, and joined the Birmingham Council on Human Relations, which frequently heard first-hand accounts of racial injustices. Through that group Eileen recruited Black students in Rosedale to integrate Shades Valley High School. She maintained some of those friendships for decades.
Eileen worked the polls during the August 11, 1964 referendum organized by the Homewood Merger Committee. The result, in which residents of Homewood voted to merge with Birmingham by a 6-vote margin, was overturned by the Alabama Supreme Court a year later. Walbert was eager to join Birmingham in order to be able to vote against Bull Connor.
In response to a call to Council members from Hosea Williams, she formed a group of 72 white Alabamians to join the Selma to Montgomery March for voting rights in March 1965. In anticipation of the court-ordered integration of public schools she was involved in organizing public meetings to keep schools open. Throughout her life she campaigned for human rights, political rights, and against the Vietnam War and the death penalty. She was involved in efforts to secure the release of Caliph Washington.
- Huntley, Horace (February 3, 1995) "Interview with Eileen Kelley Walbert" BCRI Oral History Collection - accessed March 12, 2021
- "Eileen Kelley Walbert" obituary (February 19, 2021) The Birmingham News
- Pierre, Janae (March 4, 2021) "Remembering Homewood Resident And Civil Rights Activist Eileen Walbert." WBHM-FM/BirminghamWatch
- James Walbert at Findagrave.com