'A Great Friend of the Institution'
Just part of a life of philanthropy, William R. Walker’s service to UA Fort Smith shaped today’s Foundation
By the time he passed away in late November of 2010, William R. Walker had done so much for so many that the obituaries and memorials in the papers could only briefly summarize his philanthropy and volunteer service. He played important roles in recruiting industry to Fort Smith and in the development of St. Edward Mercy Medical Center; served in leadership positions for the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce, the Boys Club, Harbor House and many other organizations; and was a member of numerous other boards.
His service to the UA Fort Smith Foundation may have been just one item in that long list of achievements, but within the University community it was both deeply admired and deeply appreciated.
To Carolyn McKelvey Moore, who launched Westark’s development program in 1987 and grew the endowment to $20 million, Walker was more than a member of the board; he was a mentor and a friend. He joined the board the same year Moore became Executive Director and, she says, taught her most of what she knows about fundraising.
“He was warm, gentle, approachable,” Moore says. “I don’t think that he would ever say it, but he really cared for people. I could pick up the phone and talk to him anytime. He was a great friend of the institution and pivotal in getting the Foundation going.”
Walker served on the board until 2007, chairing it in 1991 and 1992. In the ’90s, when Westark remained a two-year school, he almost singlehandedly raised the approximately $250,000 a year required to support the Scholar-Preceptor Program, an innovative community college version of paid internships. “He personally went around to his peers and made the case for supporting that program,” says Foundation Executive Director Marta Loyd. “He helped get it off the ground.”
Throughout his relationship with UA Fort Smith and Westark—as in the rest of his life—Walker worked quietly. “He was a guy who worked behind the scenes,” says Loyd. “He never asked for glory. But people had a tremendous amount of respect for him, so when he came to them, they wanted to help him accomplish whatever was important to him. He saw ways to connect people that others didn’t. That’s how he got things done.”
For Walker, philanthropy wasn’t matter-of-fact; instead, it was deeply personal. In fall 2009, shortly before the annual scholarship banquet, he called Loyd to apologize personally for missing the banquet, where donors share dinner with the students supported by their scholarships. It would be the first one he’d missed in nearly 20 years. The only thing that could keep him from it? His wife’s birthday happened to fall on the same day as the banquet.
The following week, at Walker’s request, the Foundation arranged a lunch for him to meet “his” students. “That says a lot about W.R.,” says Loyd. “He was just so dedicated to the things he believed in.”