A Temporary Problem
Lynn Walker was born in Texas in 1925. A few years later, his father Grover, who worked at the local oil refinery, was hit by a truck near the plant’s gate as he was bicycling to his job. Grover died a couple of days later, leaving Lynn’s mother, Lavanna, a widow with seven children to raise during the Depression.
The siblings who were old enough—even the sisters—served overseas during World War II. Lynn served in the Army and was wounded at the battle of Steinwald in Alsace-Lorraine, hit by shrapnel from a German mortar shell, some of which he carries in his arm to this day.
After the war, Lynn married his childhood sweetheart, Bettye, and after obtaining a college degree and pursuing some graduate work, he entered a career in the oil business. They moved from Texas to Venezuela, where they spent six years as expats. Lynn then took a position with a small oil company based in New York City, and they settled in Connecticut where they raised three sons.
He eventually became CEO of the AMEX-listed oil company, which was ultimately acquired by a large mining concern. Lynn and Bettye retired to Virginia and on Thanksgiving Day 2009 she died in her sleep. Recently, the 87-year-old widower moved, with the son and daughter-in-law who took him into their care, to Pennsylvania. He has been battling multiple myeloma for some time and is in the final stages of the disease. His large frame is shrinking, and the thick arms that used to swing axes and sledgehammers around his Connecticut property are withering.
I visited Lynn on Sunday at his new home. The last time I had spoken to him, by phone, he was lucid, chatty, and in good spirits. On Sunday, though, it was clear that the veil had begun to fall. He was sleeping when I arrived, but eventually he opened his eyes, and they registered surprise and delight at seeing me. He clearly knew who I was, but he was unable to speak, at least initially.
I sat next to his hospital-style bed, by a crackling wood fire, in an 18th century house not unlike the home where he and Bettye raised their three boys. When the hospice worker asked Lynn what kind of music he liked to listen to, someone replied, “Fox News is music to his ears.” Soon that channel was playing on the TV above the fireplace as he watched intently.
Lynn has been a conservative Republican all his life. (The only time I truly disappointed him was when I voted for Bill Clinton over George H.W. Bush. “How do you like your boy now?” he would ask in a scolding tone whenever we met.) Because of the difficult circumstances of his childhood, his sacrifices during the war, and his hard work in college, graduate school, and his chosen industry, he never had any patience for able-bodied people who expected handouts.
He and Bettye once visited me in Manhattan, and a fairly well-dressed man approached him on the street, begging for money. Always eagle-eyed, Lynn spotted a pricey watch adorning the man’s wrist. He took the man’s hand, gestured toward the watch, and in his voice which retained a slight Texas twang said, “If I were you, I would pawn that watch before asking anyone for money.”
He never lacked compassion for the less-fortunate, though—he simply always believed that assistance in most cases should be temporary in nature. Lynn watched with sorrow as urban housing projects and welfare created a permanent dependent class that stripped recipients of dignity and self-sufficiency. It angered him to see illegal immigrants take American jobs. It infuriated him to see the government become a bloated behemoth, taking too great a proportion of his income, which he would have preferred to have invested in our economy, creating growth and employment.
It saddened him to see traditional values scoured from our culture. It worried him that the country for which he fought and risked his life was inching ever closer to a fiscal cliff. And he opposed the intrusiveness of big government. In fact, he bridled whenever anyone tried to tell him how to run his affairs--a tendency that probably caused his career to end a few years too soon, when the cautious mining-company managers failed to understand the risk-taking mindset of the wildcatter.
During our visit on Sunday, the longer Lynn was conscious, the more alert and communicative he became. He hugged my children and wordlessly marveled at how much they’d grown. He was delighted to learn that we were considering attending a Romney rally in Pennsylvania on our way back to New Jersey.
Referring to the review of the Obama years unfolding on the TV screen, Lynn uttered the first full sentence I’d heard him say during our visit: “This…is a temporary problem.” (He had returned his Virginia absentee ballot two weeks earlier, voting for Romney/Ryan, and for George Allen, who graciously attended the wedding of Lynn’s granddaughter Sarah, a former employee.)
“A temporary problem.” From your lips to God’s ear, Dad. Soon you will be much closer to Him, and to Mom. His final words to me, as I kissed his forehead and he clutched my hand: “Be good.”
I’m certain that Dad is happy to have lived long enough to see this election’s conclusion, and when Mitt Romney wins the presidency tonight, I will raise a glass of champagne in honor of two good men who love their families and their country—knowing that one’s victory will bring to the other, somewhere in the autumnal hills of Pennsylvania, a smile of peace.