Don’t you love it when a local gal gets recognized at a young age, goes off to find fame and fortune in the Big Apple, but yearns to return to her roots? That’s the story of Judy Culbreth, writer, editor, and online dating expert. Who knew?

Judy has just released her latest work, “Bedford Garden Club Originals,” a true tale of two enterprising women who refused to hear the word “No’” and left a legacy all across America. If you’ve picked up on themes like motivation, passion, thankfulness, and momentum in the recent Scenic 98 Coastal newsletter stories, this one is about the power of collaboration and inspiration!

Judy would blush at the title of this article, but it’s fitting because it led her to an exciting and interesting career that continues today. Let’s start at the beginning. She was born into an old Mobile family with roots in Coden, Alabama, in South Mobile County. On her grandmother's side, some ancestor craftsmen built the Carpenter Gothic cottages still found in the Oakleigh Garden District of Mobile. 

She attended public schools, graduating from Murphy High School (Go, Panthers!) before earning a BA in History from the University of South Alabama in 1972. While in college, Judy held a work-study position at the yearbook, Retrospect, to help put herself through school. 

The dean of women asked her to write an essay to submit to a Glamour Magazine contest called the Top 10 College Women.  Her essay was one of the ten selected. The contest included an all-expense trip to New York City and Great Britain. Judy tells me she is still close with the other Glamour Girls, and they stay in touch and get together as much as possible. 

While in New York with Glamour, Judy and her new friends participated in fashion shows to showcase the season’s new merchandise. She made fast friends with two of the other winners, and they decided New York was where they wanted to be and decided to room together. 

She was the first to arrive and soon landed a job as an editorial assistant at Seventeen Magazine. “I rented a room at the East End Hotel for Women, waiting for my friends to move. The hotel package included breakfast and dinner. I made $80 per week and the room and board was $45 per week, so I wasn’t living the glamorous New York lifestyle.” 

When the other girls ventured to the city, they shared an apartment. After Seventeen Magazine, Judy took a post as an associate editor at Ladies’ Home Journal. “It was a switch from copywriting to editing.  I enjoy both.” As her career progressed, Judy joined other prestigious publications, such as  Mademoiselle and Scholastic magazines, and became Executive Editor of Redbook, a management role. 

Along the way, she was married for 20 years, had two children, divorced, and found herself single again at age 49. As a single mom, she found the dating scene somewhat unfamiliar territory. Online dating had just become a thing, and she bravely signed up on, wrote her profile, and took a chance that she might find a good match. Enter Walter Kirkland, who grew up in Atlanta and went to school at the University of North Carolina. 

“My offices were in SoHo at the time. Walter lived in New Jersey and worked in the financial world in New York. We decided to meet for drinks after work at a restaurant on the West Side. He had told me we had only a short time because he had to make the bus back to New Jersey.  About 20 minutes after meeting me, he switched bus schedule plans. I was amused that he had factored in an escape option if he hadn’t liked me.” 

For the second date, he suggested a weekend night. He planned the evening based on the food and music they had discussed in emails. They devoured blue crabs in black bean sauce in Chinatown. The two urban-based Southerners who were interested in history then went to the Village to listen to a group performing Civil War ballads. Judy thought it was a perfect date, but Walter surprised her when he said good night. He told her that he had been seeing someone else and dating two people at the same time was not going to work. But the chemistry was there.

“After that conversation, he went MIA from October until late November, then he called and said he had broken up with the other person and wanted to see me again. I said, ‘Guess what? I’ve been dating someone.’  I was having a good time with this new guy, dancing at holiday parties and playing golf in Florida.  But deep down, I knew he was not the one. Walter and I began seeing each other exclusively, on day two of the Millennium, and we’ve now been together for 24 years.”

These later-in-life dating experiences culminated in Judy’s first book “The Boomer’s Guide to Online Dating: Date with Dignity,” published in 2005. A  lighthearted guide for the over-35 crowd, it’s designed to help single seniors browse the Internet with confidence and ease and capture that special someone. 

“The idea started with our wedding announcement in The New York Times. So many people we knew were getting divorced and were ‘back on the market,’ so to speak. The second time around, most people have a good idea of what they are looking for as they get older. Usually, their careers are taken care of and they just want to have fun. The book was about how to date again, and how to write your profile to attract the right person. I know of at least four marriages that resulted from the book.” 

Another career stop was editor-in-chief of Working Mother, where she stayed for ten years. While there, Judy had a recurring on-air spot on NBC’s Today Show about working mothers. “At the time, working mothers had become the majority of mothers in the U.S., and I covered topics about the challenges of balancing a career and raising a family.”

Working Mother had a sister publication, Ms. Magazine. A mission of Ms. was to inspire young girls who, studies showed, didn’t envision themselves as having careers. Judy was on the steering committee, along with Marie Wilson, Nell Merlino, and Gloria Steinem. Take Our Daughters to Work Day launched on April 22, 1993. Judy promoted it in Working Mother and on radio and TV. 

“It was so gratifying to be a part of that. My daughter was 13 years old at the time, and we were on a segment together on CNN that day.  It was a sea-change event that helped young girls feel welcome in the workplace. I remember walking to my office on Park Avenue that morning and seeing streams of fathers and mothers holding their daughters' hands and heading to workplaces. It was an amazing time.” 

Judy and Walter came to Fairhope for her mother’s 70th birthday. By this time, she and Walter had been serious about each other for about two years. “I had been in New York for 33 years, and Walter, who fell in love with Fairhope, suggested we look for property and move to Fairhope permanently. We were both freelancing at the time, so where we lived wasn’t an issue.”  

They purchased a beautiful property on Weeks Bay and enlisted Bill Purvis to build their forever home. They first built a carriage house where they could live while the main house was under construction. “Bill is such a fantastic builder. We were still living in the Northeast and just agreed to whatever he suggested for the carriage house. Once we moved into it, we were able to see the progress to the main house every day.”

Around that time, Judy was contacted by Jacko Potts, founder of PMT Publishing in Mobile. He asked her to do some consulting work for Mobile Bay Monthly and soon she became its editor. She and art director Kelley Ogburn are credited with initiating the publication’s transformation into a beautiful lifestyle magazine. Judy is now retired.  

Walter and Judy also began hosting house concerts at their home on Weeks Bay. Musicians from all over the country would play for guests and stay in the carriage house in the back. “Most of the music was Irish tunes, which is Walter’s favorite.”

With two children still in the New York area, Judy visits often. Her daughter lives in Bedford, New York, in a renovated old house once owned by Delia Marble on what used to be called Marble Farms. It’s now called Airlie Farm, and on one of her visits, Judy asked her daughter’s father-in-law about the name. He didn’t know. 

Judy's research-loving gene kicked in and she learned that two spinsters, Eloise Luquer and the aforementioned Delia Marble, were founders of Bedford Garden Club and were early leaders in The Garden Club of America. The friends of 70 years laid out the first nature trail in the state of New York and inspired nature trails across the country, giving presentations and promoting conservation. Eloise was a well-regarded painter and her wildflower art earned her the moniker the ‘Audubon of Wildflowers.’ Her work is now housed at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

While growing up in small-town Bedford in late-Victorian times, there were no opportunities for Delia and Eloise to attend a grammar school, nor thoughts to send them to college. While the home-schooled and self-educated girls turned out uncommonly literate, eloquent, organized, and creative, their brothers were given the advantage of boarding school and college. The boys of the families attended prestigious schools like Columbia College and the U.S. Naval Academy. 

Without the education their brothers took for granted, without even the right to vote until their fifties, Delia and Eloise found power in collaboration with other women, one good friend at a time.  In 1898,  Delia and Eloise were officers in the District Nursing Association, the first such organization of its kind in rural America.  

Starting with one nurse, one horse, and one buggy, the group cared for patients during outbreaks of cholera, tuberculosis, diphtheria, whooping cough, and later, polio in the Bedford community. These efforts ultimately grew into the Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, New York, where two of Judy’s grandchildren were born.  

Surprisingly, many citizens said no to the District Nursing Association. “They said it would be all right in the city, but not here in the country,” Delia reported. The women persevered. They also stood up for the 4,000-acre Ward-Pound Reservation, convincing Bedford Garden Club members to pay the salary of a naturalist at the site for three years. Delia’s motto was “If you have an idea, and you’re sure it’s a good idea, just get the people together and go ahead and do it.” 

Delia’s belief was also evidenced in her war work. In World War I, there was a shortage of able-bodied men to carry on the agricultural work, so Delia helped spearhead the Bedford Women’s Agriculture Training Camp. These women farmers called “farmerettes,” popped up all through the countryside. They produced record crops during food shortages. Delia continued championing farmerettes even well after the war. Some of them lived at Airlie Farm until 1940.

The remarkable lifelong work of Delia Marble and Eloise Luquer spanned a period from the Civil War to the era of Rock and Roll, which shows what an indelible impact inspiration, perseverance, and collaboration can have on making a better world. 

The Garden Club of America, Mobile Bay Magazine, and Bedford & New Canaan Magazine recommended Bedford Garden Club Originals, as a holiday gift. Published by The History Press, the book provides rich detail and beautiful art and photographs that bring life to these remarkable innovators and entrepreneurs whose legacies endure. 

Page & Palette is hosting a book signing and speaking event for Judy on Thursday, December 14 from 3 until 5 p.m. She is scheduled for a talk at Bellingrath Gardens on January 16 at 9:30 a.m.  Autographed copies are also available at the Chapel Farm Collection in Point Clear. Or it can be purchased online at, or from an independent bookseller near you.

Thank you, Judy, for the book and the message! What an interesting career you’ve enjoyed in the publishing world. You have been at the forefront of so many positive movements for women!

Dec 13, 2023
People & Business Profiles

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