Pat Walker, who along with husband Willard, gave millions to Arkansas organizations and University of Arkansas athletic programs and was a member of the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame, has died. She was 97.
She is preceded in death by Willard. The Walkers had two children, Patricia and Johnny, and seven grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.
Pat was born in Boise, Idaho, in 1919, and raised in Tulsa. She met Willard while she was working in a department store in Coffeyville, Kan.
Willard Walker was hired by Sam Walton, co-founder of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., to manage what was then his Five and Dime store in Fayetteville. Walker would become an executive with the retailer. In October 1970, when Wal-Mart went public, it offered 300,000 shares for $15 each. Each share sold for $16.50 on the first day, and the company initially had only 800 shareholders. The Walkers were among the 800, and would later earn billions from the initial public offering.
In 1986, the Walkers formed the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation. By 2010, it had given more than $125 million to numerous charities and organizations in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.
In addition to being a member of the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame, Pat Walker was recognized as one of the Most Distinguished Women in Arkansas, was a lifetime board member of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, received the 2002 American Heart Association Tiffany Award, received the Distinguished Service Award from the Razorback Foundation, was inducted with Willard into the Towers of Old Main, were members of the University of Arkansas Chancellor’s Society and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and received the UAMS Distinguished Service Award.
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, said Walker was “gracious and elegant.”
“Pat Walker was one of the most gracious and elegant people I’ve ever known. Her heart for philanthropy is an inspiration, and she was not only a gift to those who knew her, but a gift to all of Northwest Arkansas. She truly cared about people and our community, and through her generosity, ensured a brighter future for both. All of Northwest Arkansas mourns her loss,” Womack said in a statement provided to Talk Business & Politics.
Ed Clifford, who spent 17 years with Wal-Mart Stores and is now CEO of The Jones Center, said what the Walkers did “not only in Northwest Arkansas, but the state of Arkansas and really beyond … is just astounding.” Clifford said the last time he saw Pat Walker was in October at the Jones Center annual gala.
“She was really struggling at that time, but she made it a point to come, and I was really honored by that,” Clifford said, adding that her attendance was an example of her commitment to supporting causes in which she believed.
“She really represented the family and the philanthropy so well. It’s just an amazing story,” Clifford said.
Clifford, who also was head of the Bentonville-Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce for 11 years before moving to The Jones Center, said Pat Walker is part of a unique story for Northwest Arkansas in terms of philanthropic women. He said the accomplishments of Pat Walker, Bernice Jones, Helen Walton, Johnelle Hunt and Marilyn Bogle are “astounding in terms of reach,” and said none may ever be able to fully know how many people they have helped. Clifford reminded that Hunt and Bogle are still active in their respective philanthropies.
Following are just some of the organizations to benefit from the Walker foundation:
• Willard Walker Graduate School at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas.
• In 1996, the Pat Walker Theater was dedicated at the Springdale High School.
• The Pat Walker Health Center was dedicated in November 2004, at the University of Arkansas Fayetteville.
• In 2004 the Walker Charitable Foundation gave $21.5 million to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, with $15 million of that to support the Harvey and Bernice Jones Eye Institute.
• A $5 million donation from the Walker foundation resulted in the Pat and Willard Walker Family Memory Research Center at the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging at the UAMS campus in Little Rock.
• In 2007, the University of the Ozarks dedicated the Pat Walker Teacher Education Program after an almost $3 million donation from the foundation.
• The Pat Walker Center for Seniors at Washington Regional Medical Center was opened in April 2008.
• In 2010, Arkansas Children’s Hospital named the Pat Walker Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in honor of Pat’s commitment to healthcare.
• In 2011, the foundation gave $2.5 million to support the University of Arkansas Football Center, which at the time was estimated to cost around $35 million.
“The Walker Charitable Foundation and the Walker Family have been long-time benefactors of the University of Arkansas and Razorback athletics. They are the namesakes of the Walker Family Training Center, which includes the Willard and Pat Walker Pavilion and the Razorbacks’ spectacular 18,000-square-foot weight room facility,” noted a UA statement about the $2.5 million donation. “The Walkers made the lead gift to initiate the construction of Baum Stadium, a venue consistently ranked as one of the top college baseball facilities in the nation. The Walkers also made a gift for the construction of Bud Walton Arena, which includes the Willard and Pat Walker Entry.”
• The Walker foundation in 2012 gave $1.5 million to UAMS to build the 8,000-square-foot Student Clinical Education Center at the UAMS Fayetteville location.
Also receiving significant support from the Walker Charitable Foundation: NorthWest Arkansas Community College, John Brown University, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Brandon Burlsworth Foundation, Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Northwest Arkansas, Ozark Guidance Center, Circle of Life Hospice, The Jones Center for Families, the Fayetteville Public Library, the Springdale Public Library, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
“Education is one of the largest components in helping people grow,” Pat Walker said in a 2011 report from Siloam Springs-based John Brown University.