R. Hughes Walker, 1946 – 2011

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I did not know my father very well, so it was difficult to write this notice. I’m hoping friends and family will share memories over the next weeks so that I can prepare a proper tribute.

For now …

Russell Hughes Walker, Sr., died Feb. 16 in Durham, N.C., after a bravely fought battle with lung cancer. He was 64.

Hughes, as everyone knew him, spent the past five years as a credentialing specialist at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He loved working at the hospital, where he was known for maintaining a never-ending supply of sweets in his office and, more importantly, for his exhaustive knowledge of how the VA works; he absolutely loved mastering the finer points of government bureaucracy.

As for Durham the city, somehow this Louisville Cardinals and Kentucky Wildcats fan managed to live within spitting distance of Blue Devil Nation without losing his sense of humor.

Hughes was the oldest child of R.R. “Pete” Walker and Edith Cundiff Walker. A 1964 graduate of Adair County High School, he attended Centre College in Danville and later obtained a law degree from the Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University. He was a member of Sigma Chi fraternity at Centre.

After college he entered the U.S. Army and was selected for Officer Candidate School. He served three years, leaving the service as a 1st Lieutenant.

Politics was his first love, and he did campaign work for a number of notable Kentucky politicians, including Todd Hollenbach Sr., Martha Layne Collins, and Ben Chandler. Under Collins, Kentucky’s first and only woman governor, Hughes was appointed Commissioner of Medicaid at the Cabinet for Human Resources, the state health agency where he worked for nearly a decade.

For several  years, he practiced law in Frankfort, sharing offices with former Gov. Julian Carroll, another Democratic politician he loved and had worked for.

A prolific reader his entire life, Hughes had a knack for picking the perfect books for friends and family, and his library was a favorite family source for the latest history, military, and politics bestsellers, along with a healthy serving of spy thrillers.

His favorite place in the world was Hunting Island, S.C., a beautiful barrier island near Beaufort that is maintained as a state park. For years, he enjoyed taking an annual vacation to one of the park’s seafront cabins where he could watch for nesting sea turtles at night, walk the long beach in the day and cook batches of a particularly flavorful Lowcountry favorite called Frogmore Stew.

He is survived by his son, Russ, of Seattle and Washington, DC, and his longtime companion, Martha Booth of Frankfort. He is also survived by all three siblings: John of Frankfort, Victoria of Washington, DC, and Stewart of Atlanta. His two nephews and niece are Tom Smith, a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., Hallie Smith, a senior at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School in Alexandria, Va., and Peter Walker, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. A second son, Matthew Charles, died soon after birth in 1971. His former spouse, Dr. Lee Adams, resides in Louisville.

A memorial service in Durham is planned for the week of Feb. 21. A service in Kentucky will be scheduled for later this year. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in memory of Hughes Walker to the Hospice/Palliative Care General Post Fund.  Checks may be written out to the Durham VA Medical Center, forwarded to Voluntary or Chaplain Service with the intent of the donation on the memo line or in a separate note.  All donations are acknowledged and donors are provided a receipt for taxes.

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5 thoughts on “R. Hughes Walker, 1946 – 2011

  1. I was a year behind Hughes at Centre, but was in the same Sigma Chi pledge class with him. Like many who knew him, I have lots of fond memories of Hughes, including the "underground" newspaper that he co-edited and which I mimeographed. Shortly after we both got out of the Army, we went on a weekend backpacking trip to the Red River Gorge, where he showed me his land navigation skills, acquired in the Army, by going cross country with a compass and map. I’m sorry I did not keep up with him well after he left Kentucky.

  2. Russ ~ That was a loving tribute to your father. I remember Hughes from our days in Frankfort where we were both attorneys during the 1970’s and early 1980 at what is now called the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. To say he was a character would be highly understated. When those of us who knew him talk, we always end up telling "Hughes stories" and laughing until we cry. I will use discretion here and reserve those stories for the Kentucky tribute to Hughes. I hope you know that even though he was very quiet about his family and private life, he was very proud of you and your accomplishments. My thoughts are with you and all the family.

  3. I worked in the Agriculture Department with Hughes and Mr. Mikie (aka Mike Noyes) and that was an experience for sure. Hughes by himself was indeed more than a character, but he and Mr. Mikie together were amazing. They always had a project going or some prank or some scheme to shock people. Some folks were totally disoriented and others joined the craziness. But Hughes was also a great mentor, and I learned a great deal about politics and Kentucky history from him. It was a sad day for me when we no longer worked together. Russ, I remember, BTW, one time when you were going to visit him or vice versa, and he was really excited about the time you were going to spend together.

  4. I knew your father very well. We got in and out of a lot of zany experiences together. We shared a love for practical jokes, smoke and mirrors and lots of laughter at the mainstream mind. We worked up complicated, but successful pranks that made politicians appear as they really are. When business got slow, we’d turn on each other, just to see what happened and to keep our edges sharp and thin. We always regarded each other with humor and respect. His mind was like no other I’ve ever encountered. He was very proud of you, Russ. He told me often about your antics, progress and accomplishments. You’ve got a lot of Hughes in you. I know it will serve you well as you continue on the Walker trail.

  5. Russ, I always think of your father with great fondness. I especially loved the days when I was out of school and had the opportunity to ride to Frankfort with my dad, Mike, and your dad. Those were interesting times. Looking back as an adult, I see that I was incredibly fortunate to have such wonderful times. Hughes was quick witted, beyond intelligent and a great prankster. With all three, there was no match! Your fathers ideas and stories made my imagination soar with wonder. My fondest memory is all of us going to see Where the Buffalo Roam. We were the luckiest and youngest children in the theater. That day is still crystal clear in my mind and, it impacted me in many ways. For all of these things, I am grateful I had the pleasure of knowing him. Thank you Hughes for all of your inspiration, integrity, fight and intolerance for mediocrity.

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