Published November 24, 2011
Agnes McKniff Driskell, a longtime parishioner of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Decatur and one of the founders of the Atlanta Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, died Oct. 22 at the age of 93 from complications due to late stage Alzheimer’s disease.
Mrs. Driskell came to Atlanta from England in November 1946 to marry her American soldier sweetheart, Ira Driskell. They met at a USO dance in Ipswich, England. Agnes was a sergeant in the Royal Air Force and Ira was a technician 5th class in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Mrs. Driskell fell in love with Atlanta and America and soon became an American citizen. She was first active in her local church, St. Anthony of Padua in the West End of Atlanta. When Atlanta became a separate diocese in 1956, she became one of the founders of the Atlanta Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, was president from 1971-73, and was very active in her new church, Sts. Peter and Paul.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, March of Dimes was evaluating the infant mortality rate in Georgia and started asking civic groups and churches to get involved to help solve this problem. Mrs. Driskell went to one of their meetings and got the AACCW involved. In April 1970 Better Infant Births (BIB) was formed as a coalition sponsored by the National Foundation of March of Dimes Metro Atlanta Chapter. The four original organizations were AACCW, B’nai B’rith women, Glenwood Jaycettes, and the Service Guild. By 1975, BIB had 16 organizations participating in projects to bring awareness of maternal and infant health care and to lobby for health care laws.
Mrs. Driskell’s involvement with BIB was mainly in education and layette programs. She was president of BIB from 1972-74. She, with other women, would invite doctors and nurses to attend PTAs, middle and high school assemblies and other public meetings to talk to parents and teens about good health habits, drugs, STDs, nutrition, and abstinence. The focus was for parents and teens to educate themselves in having healthy babies. She also volunteered with March of Dimes to help with rubella immunization programs, made up layettes for women who went to the local health clinics for their prenatal health care, and lobbied, along with Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies, at the state legislature for maternal and infant health care. She also helped sponsor health fairs at malls with prenatal care as the main focus. BIB is now a project of AACCW.
For six years Mrs. Driskell chaired the teen services committee of the DeKalb County Health Department, which established a task force on teenage pregnancies within the county to assist the affected teens. At her parish she helped develop the Women’s Council and organized the adult religious education program.
She received the 11Alive Award as “One Who Cares” for her work on BIB and recognition by the YMCA, Greater Atlanta DeKalb branch, for her work on the teenage pregnancy task force. In 1991 she received the National Association of Counties honor for her volunteer work in DeKalb County and was recognized in a special presentation of “County Points of Light” by President George H.W. Bush.
Her daughter, Jean, said her mother “always made sure she had time for prayer to help her through her projects, her life, and to instill a love for God in her family. Agnes was a devout Catholic Christian woman. She was a strong woman of faith, a woman who saw what needed to be done and went out to accomplish it, and most of all, a mother who cared for her children and the children in our community.”
Her funeral Mass was celebrated on Oct. 29 at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Decatur, with Msgr. Henry Gracz as principal celebrant, and several concelebrants, including Father Bryan Small, Father Edward O’Connor and Father Paul Berny. A luncheon was hosted by Sts. Peter and Paul Church after the Mass.
Mrs. Driskell is survived by her sister, Winefride Applewhite; two daughters, Therese Driskell Downs and Jean Driskell; two grandsons, James and Shannon Meeks; four great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.