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Subject: Former Wal-Mart Executive Willard J. Walker

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Date Posted: February 24, 2003 4:49:30 EDT

Former Wal-Mart executive and well-known philanthropist Willard J. Walker died Saturday of congestive heart failure. He was 81.

Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton hired Walker in 1959 to manage Walton's Five and Dime in Fayetteville. Through the decades, Walker became a major stockholder in the company.

Walker and his wife Pat eventually created the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Trust, a major contributor to health and education causes in Arkansas.

Walker was raised in Coffeyville, Kan., by his widowed mother. He began working in retail as a stock boy at the S.H. Kress department store in his hometown.

Walker met his wife at the Kansas department store. The couple was married more than 60 years and had two children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

``Our entire state has been made better place to live, work and educate our kids because he lived and gave so generously,'' said longtime friend and Springdale Mayor Jerre Van Hoose.

The Walker name is emblazoned on countless Arkansas schools, hospitals and colleges.

``You can hardly go up and down Razorback Road without seeing their name,'' said John White, chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

An indoor football practice field and the entrance to Razorback Stadium are named for the couple. They helped to build Baum Stadium, the schools baseball field.

In October, the University of the Ozarks dedicated Walker Hall, a $7 million educational and communications programs building paid for by the Walkers trust.

``Small colleges like ours really exist on generosity of people like Pat and Willard Walker,'' said Rick Niece, the university's president.

I. Dodd Wilson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said contributions from the Walkers to his school include $1.1 million to the schools surgery department and $8 million to its cancer research center. And the couple made countless other contributions. Wilson said he cannot remember all the times the Walkers have donated to the school.

``He was a marvelous man,'' Wilson said. ``But he was humble.''

Friends said Willard Walker will perhaps be best remembered for his ability to remain humble despite his financial success.

``He had a smile and a wink and a belly laugh that all the people close to him always remembered,'' said daughter-in-law Debbie Walker.

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