WATERTOWN, NY — T. Urling Walker (aka “Tom”), 97, Watertown, NY, died at his home on Jan. 3, 2023, with the support and comfort of family, friends, and dedicated caregivers.
Born on Jan. 31, 1925, and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. Tom was the eldest of two sons of Thomas Algeo Walker and Clara Elizabeth Urling Walker. In 1943 he graduated from Peabody High School and attended Washington and Jefferson College, in Washington, PA, transferring to Case Institute of Technology, in Cleveland, OH and graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering Sciences in 1951.
Between high school and college, Tom served in the United States Army Air Corps in the Pacific Theater as Sergeant and crew chief on a fleet of two- and four-engine aircraft.
Graduating from college on his return to civilian life, Tom moved with his wife Mabel Elizabeth Brooks Walker and their first born, Constance Louise Walker, to Watertown at the invitation of notable Watertonian Wilson Watkins to accept a position as a mechanical engineer and, eventually, Director of Safety at New York Air Brake. He often recounted his first visit to Watertown to interview for that position as a moment of destiny, arriving late at night by train at the old Woodruff Hotel with light snow gently falling in a picturesque streetscape memory. He knew on that first visit that he would make his home and career in Watertown.
Over the course of the next 70 years, Tom developed a distinguished career as an engineer, math and physics teacher, civic leader, philanthropist, and mayor of the city. In the 1960s he was invited to join the new faculty at Jefferson Community College as a professor of Engineering Sciences. In the 1970s he dedicated himself full time to civic service as an officer in numerous organizations focused on church, education, medical care, and local business development, as well as pursuing avocations related to long-standing interests in clocks, trees, parks, and symphonic music. During this time he served as Director of Planned Parenthood of Northern New York, Chairman of the board of trustees of the Watertown chapter of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), President of the Watertown Board of Education, Chairman and Board of Trustees of the Presbytery of Northern New York, Director of the Watertown chapter of the Girl Scouts, Chairman of the Jefferson-Lewis County Boy Scouts Association, Executive Secretary of the Jefferson-Lewis School Boards Association, Chairman of the Jefferson Community College Foundation and also of the SUNY Potsdam College Foundation and the Clarkson University Development Corporation, Executive Secretary of the Watertown Foundation, and President of the Neighbors of Watertown of Urban Mission, to name a few of his commitments. He and his late brother Barrett Cubbage Walker, of Erie, PA were founding trustees of the Alex C. Walker Charitable and Educational Foundation supporting market-based solutions to global economic problems.
His awards for public service and achievement begin in his teenage years as an Eagle Scout and a member of the distinguished Order of the Arrow. Over 40 years later in 1983, the Boy Scouts of America awarded him the Silver Beaver Award. In the same year he was awarded Watertown’s distinguished Shapiro Award for Citizen of the Year and St. Lawrence University’s North Country Citation for his dedication and service throughout Northern New York. He continued to receive awards and citations for another 30 years, without need or want of recognition. He was proud and honored to serve in his various roles.
Building a public persona throughout his career, he was promoted and advised by friends and colleagues in the 1980s to run for public office. In 1984 he was elected Mayor of the City of Watertown and served two terms, retiring in 1992 but returning in 1994 for one year as City Manager. Tom’s term in public office led to a greater expansion of military presence in the area based at Fort Drum and economic revitalization and development in the city.
In addition to his efforts to support economic development, Tom also advocated natural development of the area and in his later years was active in Tree Watertown’s effort to repopulate trees throughout the city, including the new varieties of the American Chestnut tree, America’s iconic tree species decimated in the middle of the last century. For the love and care of these trees, he was a member of the board of trustees of the American Chestnut Foundation that has experimented successfully with new, disease resistant and hearty varieties of Chestnut tree.
Tom espoused a philosophy that blended self-reliance, can-do optimism, community self- determination and resilience, and an ethic of truth and fairness in service of the public good. His engineering training cultivated a habit of mind for problem solving of both practical as well as political and social problems, serving him well in his terms as Mayor and City Manager. He loved to repair and reuse things that were broken or in need of improvement, often eschewing the new and shiny replacement to the chagrin of his children. His family will remember many stories of momentary disappointments that in the end became teaching moments and enduring lessons of care and skill and resourcefulness.
Despite his outward facing, public persona, Tom was also a devoted family man who enjoyed doing many things with his family, including travel and sports and offering advice and counsel on everything from school work, to relationships, to financial and career decisions. He was an avid outdoorsman who loved sailing, boating, and canoeing, and in later years, relaxing at his summer home on the St. Lawrence River during the summer. During the winter months, he enjoyed skiing, skating, and shoveling snow. He was a year-round resident of Watertown and the North Country and anticipated the arrival of each season with gusto, especially the Winter with its curious comfort of cold and snow. For over two decades he supported a family tradition of gathering family members from far and wide to join him in a cross-country ski weekend across the border in Quebec. Always present and steadfast, he was a gatherer of family and a builder of community.
Tom is remembered and survived by many loving family members, including his son Tom Jr. (Yanna) of Washington, DC, and his daughter Laurel Pike (Peter) of Watertown, NY. His wife Mabel and their daughters Constance Walker Monroe and Wendy Walker, a great grandson, and his brother Barrett, preceded his death. Connie Monroe is survived by her husband Wilbur Monroe and children Hillary Mamis (Don) and Perrin Monroe (Ali). Other grandchildren surviving “Poppy” are Ashley Pike Rohrbach (Caldwell), Peter Pike Jr. (Alicia), and Anthea Walker. Great grandchildren are Connie Mamis, Brody Mamis, Barrett Mamis, Wheeler Monroe, Reagan Monroe, Percy Pike, John Pike, William Pike, Walker Rohrbach and Withrow Rohrbach. His nephews Barrett P. Walker of Atlanta and Philip Walker of Jacksonville, FL were regularly present at family gatherings. The family would like to thank the loving and kind service of Tom’s caregivers Bobby Jo, Mona, Fred, and Christina over several years and to Andrea of the Hospice of Jefferson County during his final week.
The funeral will be held noon Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, at the First Presbyterian Church. Due to the recent Covid and flu outbreaks the family requests that attendees please wear masks during the service. The service will be livecast for those unable to attend in person at watertownfirstpres.org. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Walker Community Fund at the Northern New York Community Foundation.
Arrangements have been entrusted to Cleveland Funeral Home of Watertown, NY.
Online condolences may be made at clevelandfhinc.com.