ALBANY, Ga. — It's been one year since the first COVID-19 death was reported in Georgia. Since then, the state has lost more than 15,000 lives, none of which are forgotten.
Among the first 20 lives lost was Emily Willoughby Wallace, a native of Sylvester who lived in Albany most of her life. She died March 18, 2020, but her spirit lives on, especially in music.
Marcy McCarty, the executive assistant for The Arc of Southwest Georgia, was able to enjoy 8 years by Emily's side. The non-profit provides services for people with developmental disabilities, physical disabilities, and other special needs.
When Marcy was asked to start a choir for their Adult Day program, Emily was the first one to step up.
"She was a force to be reckoned with," McCarty said. "She was very verbal for someone with her disabilities. She was one of our stars. When she got up on stage she wanted the microphone."
Emily, who had Down syndrome was married to her husband, Richard, for many years. Marcy - and Emily's obituary - said they became the first special needs couple to own their own home in Georgia.
"Our former executive director who was with our organization for about 40 years was a strong advocate that individuals that we serve have the same rights and freedoms as everyone else," she said. "She helped them get married because they wanted to get married and they were both Down syndrome and she helped them find a house to live in. It was a small house but it was theirs. It was a big deal back then."
That's where Emily lived until Richard died in 2018. Marcy said Emily's health started to worsen when he passed.
"She loved him. She was always so proud to be his wife and talked about him that way," she said. "His death was hard on her and I think that started a little bit of her decline physically and mentally."
Marcy added that after he died, Emily moved into one of The Arc's group homes because she needed to be looked after at all times.
"Her health started declining and she had pulmonary issues and was on oxygen all the time," she said.
Then, when the pandemic hit a year ago, it ended up taking a toll on her. Marcy remembers Emily had to be hospitalized.
She was 67 years old.
"That's a long time for someone with Down syndrome to live even though it was sad that she had to go with a tragic virus like that," Marcy added.
Now Marcy, who used to sing side-by-side with Emily, will remember her while singing their song: "You Are My Sunshine"