Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Russell Walker, children's advocate

I missed the obituary over the Labor Day weekend about the death of one of the strongest advocates for children in the General Assembly for nearly 20 years. Sen. Russell Walker, a Democrat from Asheboro in Randolph County, died Sept. 2 at Randolph Hospital and a memorial service was held Sunday in Asheboro. A lot of people who looked up to Walker may have missed the news, but he is worth remembering for any number of reasons. One of them is that he was a patriot in the best sense of the word. Born in Conetoe in Eastern North Carolina, his family moved to High Point and Russell took at job to help out at home during the Depression at a grocery story that later became part of the Big Bear chain. He was managing a Big Bear store in Asheboro when the Japanese attack occurred at Pearl Harbor; Walker volunteered for the Army Air Corps, predecessor to the U.S. Air Force, and joined the Aviation Cadets Program. He earned a commission and flew bombers and transports over the Himalayas during World War II. He listed that educational experience in the Aviation Cadets on his entry in guides to the legislature in the space where other lawmakers would note their college and university training. It said a lot about Walker.
Upon his return after the war he and two others launched a grocery business that became Food Line, later sold to Lowes Foods, and becaame a member of the Asheboro City Council. In 1974 at age 56 he ran for and won the first of 10 terms in the N.C. General Assembly, where he rose to power as a legislator known for his good judgment and breadth of experience. In time he became one of the key Senate budget writers, chairing committees on children and human resources and becoming a forceful advocate of the N.C. Zoological Park in his district. He was a moving force behind Gov. Jim Hunt's Smart Start program in the early 1990s. He also served as chairman of the state Democratic Party.
Walker was among a dwindling number of Americans who went off to war in the early 1940s, survived a brutal experience and came home to get on with the process of building a business, raising a family, serving in a series of public offices and taking part in an array of civic and charitable ventures in his community. He was the kind of man who made America, and North Carolina, what it is.

1 comment:

Jack said...

Thank you for writing a well-deserved tribute to Russell. He was a lion in the N.C. Senate but worked quietly and effectively for children and human services issues. He deserves a lot more accolades for his life-long public service. He was a also a Democratic leader who never forget what the Party had done for working people and small businesses. He will be missed.

Jack Nichols
Wake County Democratic Party Chair