The sweetest afternoons I spent as a little girl were among a pile of yearbooks from the 1950s. In the house at 5912 Wayne Avenue in Philadelphia, my dad, John A. Walker, Jr. ’55, told me stories of his days in high school and adventures in a New Jersey town called Princeton.
After memorizing yearbook faces, Dad and I would take a walk around Germantown, the old neighborhood, and I would ask for stories (I never did have to ask twice). I walked on the exact spot where the neighborhood bully, Bad Peggy, swung her roller skate at Uncle Mike—he needed stitches. This is the very pavement that Dad and his high school girlfriend, Jane Miller, strolled along hand in hand.
A five minute amble (not the ten miles, uphill, that Dad claims) led us to the old site of Germantown Academy, where Dad attended school for 12 years. We crossed a granite stoop, deeply indented in the center from the 230-years of students who made their way along this very path. Dad would tell me how the main office was once used by George Washington as a war planning room, but I was more awed by the idea of Headmaster John F. Godman scolding Dad here for his latest prank. “Soldiers from the Revolutionary War used these fields for practice,” Dad said. But I wanted stories of soccer games played here during my father’s high school years. “The Founding Fathers walked these halls,” Dad continued, but I pictured my father and his two best friends, Skip Salus and Bray Manchester, milling around the halls together. I wanted to see the French classroom where Mr. Basy taught, and because he could not pronounce the letter “R,” a student named Rohrer would pound on the radiator just to hear Basy shout, “Lolel, stop banging on the ladiatol!”
Dad said that when he learned he’d received an ROTC scholarship to Princeton, his usually stoic father smiled and said, “Chip off the old block!” My grandmother told me juicy stories of laundry mailed home from New Jersey—which she washed and dutifully sent back to Dad’s dorm—and a few C’s in science classes. Dad recounted a tale of a suitemate who studied his heart out all semester and was ranked third in the class; when he went home to tell his parents, they said, “Don’t worry, son. Next semester, you’ll be first!” But Dad’s yarns never focused on his own academic work (perhaps for good reason). Most of them were about nights in New York City with Vassar girls on his arm.
And in 1990, for a 35th reunion, I finally got a chance to visit the magical Princeton, the place where Dad palled around with classmates named Ed Stahl and Ralph Nader, and the reason Dad had more than one orange blazer in his closet. At that reunion, when I was about to enter eighth grade, my father danced with me under a white tent with sparkling white lights. He made me feel like I was the smartest, prettiest, most wonderful girl in the world. It was just like every other day I spent with him.
The official things about my dad—how he was a Navy Captain, a University of North Carolina professor, a business owner and a United Way Volunteer—are below in his obituary. He would have told a better story—perhaps less accurate, but undoubtedly more colorful. We sure do miss him.
John A. Walker, Jr, husband, father, sailor, officer, chief executive, coach, died June 20, 2004. Born in Philadelphia, September 26, 1933, the son of Carol Scanlon and John Alexander Walker, Captain Walker (U.S. Navy, retired) graduated from Germantown Academy (1951), Princeton University (1955), and earned his MBA at the University of North Carolina (1980). His distinguished military career included Captain of the USS Gray, service in the Royal Canadian Navy, two tours in Viet Nam, and Director of Operations Sixth Fleet. He was the Founder and President of 501Management, Inc., providing complete administrative services for not-for-profit organizations. Numerous volunteer positions include work with United Way and Landmark Education. He is survived by his beloved wife Nancy Day Walker, sons John III, and Timothy, daughters Kristi and Melissa, and grandchildren Thomas and Barbara.