Robert Walker believed in service, -- to his community as a longtime Warrenton Town Council member, to his church as a trustee, treasurer and soloist in the church choir, and to the black community in the fight for justice.
Walker died Monday, June 24, at age 85. Funeral arrangements at Joynes Funeral Home in Warrenton are still being worked out. He is survived by his wife of 42 years, Lillian, four children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Businessman and friend
Walker learned barbering skills from his father, then went on to a long career running the family shop in Warrenton. He was Warrenton’s first elected black council member and served for 17 years starting in the mid-1980s.
Walker was a member of the Mount Zion Baptist Church in Warrenton for 68 years, a trustee for 40. He sang baritone in the choir.
“We grew up together. He and my sister were the same age,” said Helena Carter, the church’s clerk. She said he was a man who would go to the homes of friends to cut their hair and provide a shave if they were ill and couldn’t get out – and do it for free.
He was on a first-name basis with his community.
“He was called Bob, Robert, Uncle Bob and Granddaddy Bob even if he wasn’t related to them,” Carter said.
He continued to work at Walker’s Barber Shop on Third Street and mowed his lawn for as long as he was able.
Carter said Walker played an “instrumental” role in the integration of local schools. He attended one of the Rosenwald schools, named for Sears & Roebuck co-owner Julius Rosenwald, a philanthropist who helped build more than 5,300 schools for black children across the South before integration.
She said he also fought to keep the name of William C. Taylor alive. Taylor High School, the original high school for black students in Warrenton – now Taylor Middle School -- was named after the longtime local educator.
Carter said Walker was also a public school bus driver for 32 years. She said he would always make sure a child got home, even if it meant taking the child home in his own vehicle, “back in the day when such an act wouldn’t cause a stir.”
Carter said Mount Zion was Walker’s “second home.” As one of the trustees, he would make sure that “when a window was broken or a light went out, he’d take care of it,” Carter said.
Walker was also a Mason for 58 years and a lifetime member of the NAACP.
Dr. James Kelly, president of the Fauquier County NAACP, said Walker was “always eager and ready to serve whenever and wherever he could. In the difficult times of the chapter, when people were absent from various positions, it was Bob Walker who would step up to the challenge to fulfill the vacancy.”
Kelly said he often tapped Walker’s deep local knowledge.
“When I wanted history and background, I would stop by the barber shop and chat with Brother Bob Walker,” Kelly said.
“Bob Walker was a friend, a friend to everyone who knew him; no matter where they crossed in the path of life; and we will miss his leadership, his friendship, his kindness, and his thoughtfulness,” Kelly added.
Warrenton Mayor Carter Nevill said, “Warrenton has lost a pillar of the community. Very few among us have given so much as he has, and he did so simply by being himself. From carrying on his father’s business and working towards the successful integration of town, to his 17 years serving on town council, Bob Walker quietly made an indelible mark on Warrenton that made us better as a community. His history made our history.”
Warrenton Council at large member Renard Carlos recalled, “I, like so many others in this town, can remember sitting in Mr. Bob’s barber shop as a child, watching while he cut hair. As a young enthusiastic political newcomer, I remember sitting in that same shop as he counseled me on how to present my views on issues in a way that folks could understand and shared his years of experience on council with me. I will truly miss him.”
Reach James Ivancic at email@example.com