Hundreds pay respects to Walker at viewing

WARNER ROBINS — The hundreds who passed through McCullough Funeral Home on Thursday to pay their respects to Mayor Donald Walker knew him at various points throughout his life.

Older men told stories of frolicking with an energetic young Donald at Walker Pond in the 1950s and ’60s. Officials from Warner Robins and its surrounding cities discussed Donald the man, responsible for major growth in Warner Robins during more than 15 years as the city’s leader.

Walker, 60, died Monday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He is to be laid to rest today after another brief viewing, followed by a funeral service at the Homer J. Walker Jr. Civic Center, which is named for his father.

“Everyone who knew him was a good friend to him,” said James Walker, 52, no relation. He remembered campaigning with Donald Walker for Homer J. Walker Jr. when he ran for mayor. “It was very special to be a part of the things he did.”

Angie Graham said though she wasn’t a Walker supporter, she felt a certain duty to pay her respects to the man who had so much love for Warner Robins.

“It’s just so unbelievable that he’s gone, and I’m still in shock,” said Graham, a Warner Robins resident. “He was so gung-ho for this town.”

Under the city seal, stitched in white silk inside the coffin lid, Walker wore a blue suit with a city of Warner Robins lapel pin.

On his hands were championship rings from Northside High School’s state football championships in 2006 and 2007. In his hands were colorful drawings from his grandchildren.

Next to the coffin was a framed article from a Marietta newspaper featuring Walker. Rust-colored boots, his trademark until a nagging foot injury resigned him to tennis shoes, stood nearby.

Among dozens of wreaths was a blue and white wreath from Walker’s graduating class. “A Northside Eagle Forever,” it said.

Many of the wreaths were from close friends and family. A wreath near the casket was in the shape of a Warner Robins police badge. Many came from city employees and departments. Others came from the numerous organizations Walker supported and worked with as mayor — from Robins Air Force Base to the Salvation Army.

Before the viewing began, city officials and Walker’s longtime secretary shared personal stories about how Walker kept a tight rein on city hall for more than 15 years.

“He wanted to make sure everything ran right in the city,” Councilman Bob Wilbanks said Thursday morning in the city hall conference room. “That’s the reason we’re where we are today.”

Mayor John Havrilla, who was the city councilman for Post 1 before being elevated to the top spot Monday, first caught a glimpse of Walker in 1992 when both men campaigned unsuccessfully for mayor. While their relationship was mostly for the betterment of the city, Havrilla said, there was plenty to learn in watching Walker.

“He was a person who was very knowledgeable about city issues,” Havrilla said. “And he was willing to share that information ... on a daily basis. He was a real good political person. He knew the city. He knew what people wanted. I always admired his rhetorical skills and his ability to persuade people about his point of view. I wish I had that kind of ability.”

Faye Coulter, the mayor’s longtime secretary, described a funny man who remembered every question asked and cared deeply about the city. Sure, he would get mad, she said. But he would never really show it in public.

“He’d rant and rave and bang the gavel, then he’d turn around, and wink at me, like ‘How’d I do?’ ’’

She said it’s still hard to stray from a routine she carried on with him for more than 15 years.

“I would wait on my phone call every morning,” she said. “He’d say ‘What’s goin’ on, Faye?’ and I’d tell him. Sometimes I would tell him. Sometimes I wouldn’t. I could somehow make it sound good when I told it.

“I still wait on his phone call every morning. I’ll always be waiting on the mayor to come back.”

Staff writer Becky Purser contributed to this report.

To contact writer Marlon A. Walker, call 256-9685.