William James Walker
June 8, 1926-Dec. 31, 2010
William James Walker, father, grandfather, brother, pilot and friend to pilots and many others, died Dec. 31, 2010.
Bill was born in Mt. Olive, Ill., on June 8, 1926, son of William Julius Walker and Susan McMahon Walker. Shortly before the end of World War II, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps as an airman, intent on learning to fly to serve his country. The war ended before he earned his wings, but Walker's love of flying did not - it became a lifelong passion that he pursued until his death.
He attended the University of Illinois on the GI Bill and graduated with a bachelor's degree in journalism. He worked for the Daily Illini campus paper all through college.
Bill married Joyce "Boots" Hull and pursued a career as a manufacturer's representative in the plastic packaging industry. His job had him on the road and gave him ample opportunity to visit every airfield along the way. Meanwhile, he read, studied and learned everything he could about aviation history, planes and pilots, eventually developing an encyclopedic knowledge of flight.
In 1957, Bill moved to San Francisco, then settled with his wife in Mill Valley, and shortly thereafter had a son, William Dean Walker. He became a frequent visitor to Bay Area airfields and aviation history museums.
In 1973, Bill was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and not expected to live. He beat the cancer, but it triggered a lifestyle change. In 1984, he moved to Sonoma and, at age 56, finally earned his wings with a private pilot's license.
One day while dining at Ford's Café in Schellville, a young man jokingly asked Bill if he wanted to help start a flight school. "Oh, what the hell, why not," was Bill's response. The young man in question was Chris Prevost, who had just started a biplane sightseeing business and was searching for ways to augment his enterprise. Chris shared Bill's love of everything aviation and a strong friendship was forged over breakfast.
"I was a young upstart," says Chris. "Bill brought not only his knowledge of flight, but also his business experience and credibility to the airport and it's undertakings."
"Walker" as he was called by his Sonoma friends and pilots, volunteered at the Vintage Aircraft Company for the last eight years. "We sell smiles" was Walker's signature line, taking great pleasure in teaching the youngsters about World War II airplanes. He shared his love of aviation with all who walked through the door and, at the end of the weekend, called his pilot nephew Tom Stiles in Pocahontas, Ill. to talk more airplanes.
William James Walker is survived by his son, William Dean Walker and daughter-in-law, Gay; sister, Frances Walker Brianza and brother-in-law, Leo; granddaughter, Susan Walker; his beloved nephew Tom Stiles and his wife, Lois; his niece Janis Mathis and her husband, David. "Walker" will also be dearly missed by his close friends Chris Prevost and Sheryl Carlucci and the many pilots at Sonoma Valley Airport.
A memorial service will be held at the Sonoma Valley Airport on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011, at 11 a.m.