Tuesday, June 28, 2005

John Walton, a true Renaissance man, has passed away

Yes, he was the world's 11th richest person, but that wasn't really what made John Walton special. The first time I ever met John Walton, he was wandering about in an office building looking for a meeting. He introduced himself simply as "John." I think I was probably in high school at the time. We spoke for a bit, and I gave him directions to the office he was looking for. Only later did I find out that "John" was John Walton. I never would've guessed it from his down-to-earth demeanor. To me, a rich guy was loud and outrageous, a guy like Richard Branson or Donald Trump. A guy who wanted you to know who he was and to know he was big stuff. A guy who wanted you to be impressed by him. In contrast, John Walton knew who he was and felt no need to prove anything to anybody. In that way, I think there may have been a little bit of Howard Roark in John Walton.

I've been a huge admirer of John's philanthropic work and was fortunate to know him casually for many years after that first chance meeting in Arkansas. Though we crossed paths periodically over those years, I'm learning there was so much I never knew of him. For example, I didn't know this:
John was a Green Beret, part of a unit code-named the Studies and Observations Group, or SOG (cover for "special operations group"), a secret, elite military unit whose operatives would be disavowed by the U.S. government if captured. SOG often conducted actions behind enemy lines and in Laos and Cambodia. John joined the unit in 1968, right after the Tet offensive. On almost every mission there was a firefight.
The rest of the article goes on to detail how John won the Silver Star for his valor. Wow. And here I thought he was larger-than-life even before I knew any of that. To me, John Walton was a hero and a giant because of what he was actively doing to help thousands of children, and for what he was working to do to help millions more. Further, unlike all-too-many philanthopists, John Walton was actually willing to take a hard look at how to solve the problems in our education system. It wasn't enough to John to throw some dollars around to make himself feel better or to get his name on something. John actually set out to effect real change, and that is all too rare. Throwing money at a problem is easy. Everybody likes you for it. Effecting real change is tough, and the vested interests in the status quo will do their best to make you pay a price for it. Throughout his life, John had the courage to go for it. The loss of John Walton is a heavy loss to our world, and God bless him for being who he was.

Michelle Malkin weighs in.

Milblogger Blackfive puts it about as well as it can be put:

John Walton was a billionaire. But he also followed his passions of building things - motorcycles, airplanes, etc. He built schools and spent millions and millions on educating children. He volunteered for Viet Nam. He could have been an Officer and probably gotten his choice of assignments, but, instead, he served as a Special Forces Medic taking care of his men - putting their lives ahead of his own. And he lived his life the best he could and died doing what he loved to do.

Now, that's a legacy.

Godspeed John

Amen, brother.

Other stories on John:



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