A Wilkes County man who served for about 30 years as an elected official died Monday at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem.
R. Tracy Walker, 82, of Wilkesboro was a Wilkes County commissioner for 18 years (1978-1996), Wilkes Board of Education member from 1972-76 and represented Wilkes and other counties in the N.C. House of Representatives from 2001-08.
Walker was a member of the Wilkes Community College Board of Trustees at the time of his death after being appointed by the Wilkes school board in 2016. He attended the Oct. 10 WCC Board of Trustees meeting.
“His footprint will forever be on Wilkes County. It will never be erased,” said Gerald Lankford about Walker. The two served together on the Wilkes school board, WCC board and for many years as county commissioners.
Lankford said Walker was strong-willed and hard to sway from what he believed, but also listened to what others had to say. As chairman of the county commissioners from 1984-86 and 1990-91, Walker “was awfully good about giving everyone a chance to have their say.”
Lankford added, “Tracy was a good friend and such a servant of the people. He would do anything he could for someone and he was so honorable…. Many politicians have their own interests at heart, but he put the interests of the people of this county and state first.”
Gene Brookshire said he knew Walker as a “fine commissioner with the people’s interests at heart” from when they served together as county commissioners.
Brookshire said Walker was well-liked by his co-workers at Chatham Manufacturing Co. in Elkin, “which says a lot about a person because those are the people who see you every day.”
Walker retired from CMI Holdings Inc. (formerly Chatham Manufacturing) in 1999, spending much of his 32-year career there as human resources manager. Earlier, he handled upholstered furniture sales.
“For over 30 years, Tracy Walker was an integral part of Chatham Manufacturing Co.,” said Lucy Chatham Shaw, who was the company’s vice president, corporate secretary and board vice chairman.
Shaw added, “A committed employee, he was always there to help weather the bad times, and celebrate the good. He was quick to let you know he was from Wilkes County, which he liked to say was ‘the best place on earth.’ Tracy worked diligently to improve the lives of all. He will be greatly missed.”
Shaw led a stockholder group that tried unsuccessfully to outbid a Denmark-based firm for ownership of Chatham in 1988.
Walker was a county commissioner most of the time Cecil Wood was Wilkes County manager (1986-1995) and Wood remembered Walker for being a peacemaker on the board, as well as for being his friend.
“He cared for people and he wanted to make things better for everybody – and he was willing to take a hard stand if he had to.”
Wood first knew Walker when he helped with youth football while Wood was in elementary school. Wood also knew Walker from his involvement with North Wilkes High School athletics when Wood was a student there. Walker was the first president of the North Wilkes High Athletic Booster Club.
The son of a Baptist preacher, Walker was raised in the Oakwoods community and was a standout football player at Wilkes Central High School. He graduated from Wilkes Central in 1955, served in the U.S. Air Force (in Air Force Security) from 1955-59 and attended Wilkes Community College.
Bill Anderson, chairman of the Wilkes County Republican Party for many years, said Walker made his mark on Wilkes in elected government positions. He was a member of the Wilkes County GOP Executive Committee from 2001-08. Anderson added that Walker was a good family man and his good friend.
“Tracy was his own man. When he was in the House, it didn’t sit too well with him when they tried to gerrymander him out of his own district. They were going to take a bunch of Wilkes away from him and he successfully fought it,” said Anderson, in high school with Walker but a few grades ahead of him.
He said Walker was well prepared for whatever the situation and presented himself well as a statesman. “He could cross party lines and work well with others. If not for the Democrats (voting for him) he probably would have lost some elections.”
Walker was board chairman of the Northwestern Regional Housing Authority from when it was created in 1979 until 1984. The Boone-based authority oversees low-income housing in Wilkes, Allegheny, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga and Yancey counties. Ned Fowler, the authority’s executive director since its creation, said Walker helped Northwestern get through many challenges in the early years.
Walker also chaired the Region D Council of Governments from 1988-1990, was a member of the Wilkes County Economic Development Board from 1999-2004, was a founding member of the Mountain View Medical Center and the Blue Ridge Water Association and was a charter member of Mountain View Ruritan Club.