Several people have used the phrase “old school” when talking about Don Walker. I know what they mean and it is certainly intended as a compliment.
But I want to make sure no one thinks that what Don did as a news reporter and editor for 37 years in Milwaukee was in any way out of date.
The Don Walker approach to news was to get to know all you can about important subjects and to tell what you know to the public in as clear and straight-forward a way as you could. That’s something we need so much these days. That’s why whatever he wrote, whatever subject he was covering, his reporting was a must-read for anyone who wanted to know what was going on.
That’s one big reason – but only one – why Don will be missed. He collapsed and died Friday at home, apparently of a heart attack. He was 62.
Don worked in a lot of different roles for more than three decades at the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He was a first-rate pro in every assignment.
Since last fall, he worked as a fellow at Marquette Law School, continuing his outstanding coverage for the Journal Sentinel of the hot issues around building a new arena in downtown Milwaukee. The fellowship was established through the Law School’s Sheldon B. Lubar Fund for Public Policy Research. It was extended several times because Don was doing just what the fellowship intended – he was keeping the public clearly and thoroughly informed on a major policy issue.
Who to call as witnesses to support the praises I offer? Pretty much everyone who ever worked with him. He was a good boss, a good colleague, a good teacher for those new to the newsroom. He was a big ally of anyone and anything that helped make the quality of news reporting and publishing better in Milwaukee.
That leads to a second big reason Don will be so deeply missed. He was a great guy – warm, caring, level-headed, a team player both in the newsroom and everywhere else. Not flashy, not egotistical. Someone who clearly treasured his wife and two sons. Everyone’s friend? You certainly would be convinced of that if you knew how so many people, both in the Journal Sentinel newsroom and beyond, were feeling the last few days.
And yes, a third reason is just how sudden his death was. A long-time runner in great condition, he was, to all appearances, in very good health.
He and I sat in my office for about a half hour late Thursday afternoon, just talking, as we often did. He had officially retired from the Journal Sentinel in December. One of the things we talked about was what he might do when the Law School fellowship ended. He said whatever happened, he’d be happy.
Sixteen hours later, he was dead.
Oh, Don. Oh, my.
Whatever we call your school, it was never old. It was, is, and will be the school of who and what we need more of. And we who were close to you, we need to be your continuing students.
Visitation for Don Walker will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Schmidt & Bartelt Funeral Home, 10121 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa, with a rosary service at 8 p.m.. The funeral will be at 11 a. m. Friday at the Church of the Gesu, 1145 W. Wisconsin Ave. It will be followed by a reception with the family at Eckstein Hall.