What I thought was strange years ago made a lot of sense Monday when I
learned that Horace Walker - basketball superstar, high-powered corporate
executive, untiring worker for equality - had died in his California home.
A kick in the stomach would have been easier to take. Every one has to die, of course, but not Horace Walker and certainly not so soon, and definitely not alone. What irony that a man who literally had hundreds of friends across the country would die alone, stricken at his home unaccompanied by family or friends.
When I heard the news, I found the obit he had written and I had helped rewrite. Like most obituaries, it was OK; but no obituary could sum up the life of Horace Walker.
People like Horace sometimes are referred to as a "force of nature," almost like a hurricane in that he is impossible to ignore, stop, or even slow down; and his life affects everyone in his path. As mild and good-natured as he was, a nickname of "Hurricane Horace" would not have been out of place.
Once he set his mind on something, nothing could deter him. He accomplished more with his quiet voice, his ready-made smile and his abundance of common sense than a truckload of ranters and ravers. Major corporations recognized this rare trait and were anxious to have Horace work for them.
If you think I exaggerate, try to imagine another 15-year-old lad who could first captivate and then unite an entire city, and a tough, racially divided city at that. That's what Horace did as a sophomore at Chester High, not because of his brilliance on the basketball court, but because of the way he conducted himself away from the arena. Even as a kid, he was a "force of nature," someone who was not to be denied.
He could have taken advantage of the city he held in the palm of his hand, swaggering down the avenue, demanding this and that, reminding everyone of how wonderful he was. No way. He was polite almost to a fault. Even the thought of such outlandish behavior was completely foreign to his nature.
He counted CEOs, big-time politicians, motion picture stars and major sports celebrities among his acquaintances, but Horace never forgot a friend and never forgot where he came from. A most dutiful son, he flew regularly from the West Coast to visit his mother, then still living in the family home where Horace was raised in the 200 block of Engle Street.
And when Mrs. Walker could no longer live alone, Horace was here to make certain she was in the finest retirement home available.
On a more personal note, some years ago one of my sons became terminally ill in Los Angeles. Like many young men, he had no insurance, no job benefits and was in a charity ward of an L.A. hospital. It wasn't a place you'd want a loved one to be.
I called Horace, hoping he could help. He wasn't home. He was in Hawaii. I left a message on his machine. Soon, he got back to me, said he'd do whatever he could. My son was transferred to a much nicer facility, his care improved dramatically and he lived longer and more comfortably than the family had dared hope.
Horace never told me how he did it, and I never asked. But it was done. That old "force of nature" again. I never forgot it.
That act of kindness was on my mind as I looked at the notes Horace had made for his memorial service. He requested that the Rev. Commodore Harris deliver the greetings, the opening prayer and the first scripture reading at Calvary Baptist Church.
Cheryl Long of Media has been requested to give the second scripture reading. By the way, Horace has selected what scripture passages will be read.
He wants Scherrie Payne of Marlton, N.J., to sing, and he'd like former Clipper teammates Cecil Bond Jr. and Jimmy Long to offer reflections.
For the recessional, he thinks it would be nice if the organist play and the choir sing "That's What Friends Are For."
To begin the service, he has asked me to read his obituary.
I'd be honored, old pal.
After all, that's what friends are for.
Ed Gebhart is a retired public relations executive. His column appears Friday and Sunday.