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E'town grieves mayor's death

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Friends, colleagues say his faith, kind nature anchored him

By Marty Finley

Elizabethtown City Hall was full Friday morning, but its inhabitants were hollowed out by the news of Mayor Tim Walker’s death.

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Standing outside his office, city officials huddled together in a show of unity, struggling with the surreal nature of his absence. Many pointed out they had spoken to Walker just hours before and all signs indicated he was well.

Councilman Ron Thomas hugged City Attorney D. Dee Shaw, dumbfounded by the notice and struggling with grief. Others around Thomas stood solemnly and a silence engulfed the hall near Walker’s empty office as everyone searched for the right words to say.

“I’m just absolutely shocked,” Elizabethtown Police Chief Tracy Schiller said, his words choked off. “My prayers go out to the family. There’s not much to say.”

Councilman Marty Fulkerson said his relationship with Walker predated their tenure on Elizabethtown City Council, recalling the time he sold advertising for Walker’s small business. It was Walker who suggested Fulkerson run for public office.

“He was always about betterment, whether it was Elizabethtown, Hardin County or the state,” Fulkerson said.

Walker also sought to accommodate those who approached him for answers or solutions and tried his best to produce a positive outcome for all parties, even as council members urged him to say no from time to time, Fulkerson said.

“Tim was always trying to find a way to say yes,” he said.

Thomas said Walker’s easygoing manner and cordial personality were really his only downfall because, despite his best efforts, he never could please everyone. Thomas said Walker was a friend first and a mayor second. Walker insisted those around him call him “Tim.”

Walker, 54, was pronounced dead at 5:33 a.m. Friday by Chief Deputy Hardin County Coroner Kenneth Spangenberger, who said Walker suffered a massive heart attack triggered by a cardiovascular disease.

Walker was an organ donor and recently lost around 40 pounds in an effort to live a healthier lifestyle. Spangenberger said the weight loss was not a contributing factor in his death.

Fulkerson described Walker as a tenacious worker who rarely missed a meeting and never held other’s personal beliefs or opinions against them if they disagreed in the political arena.

In fact, Fulkerson said he exuded a charming aura that won people to his side.

Anyone would be foolish to run against Walker for mayor because of his popularity and kind nature, he said.

“I’ve lost more than I’ve won against Tim Walker,” he said with a chuckle.

Councilman Tony Bishop said Walker was more than a boss or city leader to those who knew him best.

“We were like brothers,” he said.

Bishop, who is close to Walker’s family, said the mayor was a confidante and shoulder to lean on when Bishop’s mother died.

“He was a one-of-a-kind fella you could count on,” he said. “He carried that on in his business.”

A small business owner by trade who operated Plaza Lube, he was an Elizabethtown firefighter from 1990 to 1996 and was elected to Elizabethtown City Council later than year, a role in which he served until he was elected mayor in November 2010, ousting incumbent David Willmoth.

Willmoth said Walker had a talent for pushing ideas through to the council and was dedicated to everything he attempted in life.

“It was sort of hard to believe,” Willmoth said of the news.

During his time in office, Walker helped oversee the development of the Elizabethtown Nature Park, the opening of the Elizabethtown Sports Park and the construction of tennis courts at Freeman Lake Park.

In the city’s latest budget proposal, Walker called for millions in funding for sanitary sewer and road improvements, including extending Towne Drive to Veterans Way.

He also was an advocate for downtown revitalization and economic development, working to attract Indian manufacturer Flex Films and traveling to India to meet with dozens of companies.

Wendell Lawrence, executive director of the Lincoln Trail Area Development District, said his staff was nursing grief for Walker from personal and professional standpoints.

“It was a punch to the gut for many of us,” Lawrence said.

Walker attended board meetings religiously and developed a meticulous attention to detail, Lawrence said, bringing with him a level-headed approach to the proceedings and a true understanding of the district’s mission.

“He always held his own,” he said.

But while he was remembered for his dogged work ethic and tireless commitment to advancing Elizabethtown and Hardin County, Walker’s friends and colleagues said he prioritized his relationship with God and dedication to his family as firsts in his life.

Stuart Jones, pastor of First Christian Church in Elizabethtown, assembled the church’s leadership and elders to comfort the family Friday morning.

Jones said Walker had been a member of the church the majority of his life. Serious about his faith, Walker illustrated it through his actions, Jones said.

It is unlikely many mayors in his position would voluntarily serve as a church nursery worker because they recognized a need, he said.

Walker had made a conscious decision in the past five years to grow closer to Jesus and give more of himself, Jones said.

Fulkerson and Thomas, meanwhile, said Walker successfully brought the purest elements of his faith to public service and acted on his beliefs in his dealings with others.

Walker also displayed a tolerance for other religions when he participated in a traditional Hindu ground blessing ceremony for Flex Films in 2011 with Gov. Steve Beshear. Beshear was attacked for participating in the ceremony by former GOP gubernatorial candidate David Williams, who equated the act to idolatry.

Walker defended the city and his own participation in the ceremony, saying it was a welcoming gesture to an incoming company bringing hundreds of new jobs.

“It didn’t compromise my beliefs,” he said. “It didn’t compromise my religion.”

Bishop said Walker may have left them too soon, but his influence will remain for years.

“His legacy is going to be his life, the friendships he built and the care and love he had for others,” he said.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.