Sunday, August 26, 2018

Celebrating the Life of Friend & Selfless National Hockey League Veteran ~ Kurt Walker & Dignity After Hockey

In 1985 Kurt Walker invited me to a Legends of Hockey fundraiser game he organized for a cause I can not recall. It was indicative of charitable acts Kurt would perform his entire life.

The venue was Chicago's UIC Pavilion, and Kurt fulfilled his promise that big names would take the ice. Following a spirited contest I walked down to the rink.

The first to skate off was Gordie Howe. Followed by Bobby Hull. Then came Stan Mikita. Then Keith Magnuson. And other Hall of Famers. Each slowed as they exited, likely expecting that I wanted their autograph.

I felt I had to say something, probably, "Thanks, I'm waiting for Kurt Walker." They grinned politely and continued on without comment. If I had to guess, they were probably thinking ...

"Then you must be waiting for a fight."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I did not know then what I know now. In 1985 I knew Kurt only as a genuine, smart and immensely fun guy to be around - who happened to have played a few years in the NHL. I had no clue he was a legendary enforcer for his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs.

Kurt and I were fellow sales guys for the same corporate events company. The firm moved me to Chicago and Kurt to Boston to open their first regional sales offices. I never made it to Boston during those years, but I hosted Kurt often on his business trips to Chicago. The "Legends" game is one of few experiences I can share about our times together in a family friendly document.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Fast forward 30+ years. Not long ago I messaged Kurt via some new age medium that confused both of us, "Hey, are you in Georgia now? I just moved back for the first time since 1984."

Weeks later he apologized for messaging ineptitude and replied, "Ya man! I am in Roswell - let's get together." Sadly, we never did.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Kurt passed away on August 17 after a freak injury that was no doubt a result of long term abuse to his body decades after his athletic career came to an end.

Kurt's memorial service and life celebration were amazing. 

On the left is trade show industry legend Johnny Merritt. I am pretty sure he introduced me to Kurt. Johnny too has colorful Kurt Walker stories to share, many of which may not be of a family friendly nature.

Folks who claimed to not be adept at public speaking were in fact more than adept. 

Two speakers are pictured below on the right. I must identify those two on the left. They were most colorful and engaging conversationalists, yet I did not get their names.

Since first draft I learned that the gent on far left is Willi Plett. To his right is Eric Vail. Both are former Atlanta & Calgary Flames. See NHL cards for them and Kurt at bottom of this article.)

First to take the podium was former Atlanta Flame Richard Mulhern, who once looked like this:

Richard now looks like this. He has held up remarkably better than the guy to his left.

Next to speak was former Atlanta Flame & Maple Leaf Tim Ecclestone, who once looked like this:

Tim now looks like the 2nd guy from the right in the foursome above.

Richard and Tim spoke of Kurt's courage, loyalty, drive, spontaneity and generosity. They too confessed to having many stories not appropriate for a family friendly audience.

Last to speak was Kurt's daughter Zoe. She shared touching memories of her Dad as only a Daddy's girl could.

One constant prevailed throughout this day of celebration:

Kurt Walker lived his life to help others. He relished in it. More often than not he helped those who had zero opportunity to return the favor.

Kurt's dedication to those in need is manifest in Dignity After Hockey. Kurt founded the non-profit group to assist former professional hockey players who have fallen on hard times. 

Dignity After Hockey lives on through the efforts of Kurt Walker's friends and family. They ask that you honor the life of this great man by making a donation to continue Kurt's mission.


Dignity After Hockey

Postscript: Having learned the identity of two NHL legends pictured above it is fitting to share images from their playing days:

Just received a Kurt NHL card. Never knew he played for the Kings.