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Thomas Woodley Walker died peacefully on Tuesday, May 2, 2023 at Riverside Methodist Hospital, Columbus, Ohio, with Anne, his wife of 56 years, at his side.
Tom was born on November 12, 1940 in Boston, Massachusetts and grew up loving animals and reptiles of all kinds, even skunks, which led to some memorable experiences. His dream as a young boy was to one day own a farm and have a pig of his own.
During his summer vacations in college, he had several jobs that impacted his worldview. He worked as a ranch hand in Wyoming, falling in love with the West and its vast openness. He also worked as an aid in the Medford State Psychiatric hospital in Massachusetts. This experience exposed him to the struggles of people living with mental illness.
After his graduation from Brown University in 1963, he joined the Peace Corps and served in Colombia. He and his friend worked in Mompox, along the Magdalena River. They facilitated the building of community centers, small rural schools, a bridge, and electric plant facilities. Some of his fondest memories were of this time and the generosity and warmth of the Colombian people.
For six months he worked in Alaska, writing proposals for Native Housing initiatives in rural communities. He then began his MA program in Latin American Studies at the University of New Mexico, where he and Anne met and were married. He earned his Ph.D. in Political science focusing on the political dynamics of Nicaragua and Brazil.
In 1972, Tom began his teaching career at Ohio University in Athens. The bulk of his academic work focused on Nicaragua and the 1979 Revolution. He authored and published many seminal works on Nicaragua and Central America. During the 1980s and 90s, he travelled extensively, lecturing at universities and colleges from coast to coast about the Sandinista Revolution and United States foreign policy towards the region. In keeping with his sense of solidarity, he donated all the speaking fees from those lectures to local development organizations in Nicaragua.
He served as Director of the Latin American Studies program at Ohio University for many years. He was touched by and learned from his many students from the United States and around the world. His advice about teaching, to anyone who would listen, was “Love your students. When you love your students, the rest will fall into place.” He loved his students and was grateful for the way they enriched his life.
In 1995, Tom became involved in the Athens Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. He became a champion and advocate for people living with mental illness and dedicated much of the last two decades of his life to raising awareness of mental illness and ending the stigma surrounding it. He hosted a series of interviews on the local public radio station, WOUB, speaking with advocates and experts about living with severe mental illness. His radio program was converted to a podcast and reached listeners around the world.
He had a particular passion for giving dignity to the many people buried at the Ridges Cemeteries on the old Athens Asylum grounds. Nicknamed “Tom Chainsaw Walker,” Tom was able to work alongside a crew of volunteers, NAMI members and Hocking students to restore the cemeteries and build a trail and nature walk connecting the three cemeteries.
Tom was also involved in Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for mental health in the community. CIT helped train police officer candidates at Hocking College and active-duty officers in Southeastern Ohio in how to respond and relate to someone in a mental health crisis.
Athens provided the perfect setting for a nature lover and in 1978, Tom and Anne bought a small farm just outside of Chauncey where Tom was also able to fulfill his dream of having animals, eventually raising pigs, sheep, chickens, goats, dogs, cats, and even a few steers. Tom loved to invite children to the farm to pet the newborn lambs each Spring. He incorporated stories of sheep farming into his teaching and was notorious for coming to lectures with manure on his shoes and discussing the best way to castrate lambs. Tom’s passion in later years was watching the many birds that would flock to his patio. He would replenish the bird feeders with cracked corn and sunflower seeds several times a day.
Along with his big heart and love for people, Tom had a mischievous streak. He loved to tell stories and to tease. Several generations of Athens youth still recall the nicknames Tom gave them.
Tom was preceded in death by his father Joseph Thomas Walker, his mother Lola Muns Walker Zimmerly, and his stepfather Isaac Preston Zimmerly.
He is survived by his wife, Anne Uribe Walker of Millfield, Ohio; his children, Joseph Thomas Walker, Carlos Andrew Walker (Mayling Charpentier), James Isaac Walker (Yashoda Reano Walker) and Emilie Jeannette Walker. He is also survived by his beloved sister, Janet Lee McCabe (David McCabe); and dear sisters-in-law, Lucy and Carla; their spouses Terry and Manuel; nieces and nephews, Sarah (Bill), David, Mike (Sara), Sarah (Keith), Kipper (Mayumi), Alejandra (Martijn), Carolina, and Gabriela. His grandchildren, Dorothy Camille Walker Charpentier, Noah “Charlie” Walker Charpentier, and Santiago Walker Adkins have been the light of his life since each was born.
A celebration of life will be held in mid to late August. Memorial donations may be sent to NAMI Athens, NAMI Ohio, or to the Tom and Anne Walker Scholarship fund at Ohio University.