NANCY JOHNSTON WALKER
Nancy Johnston Walker, 90, died Friday August 3, in Honolulu after a short illness.
Born in the small town of Port Leyden, New York, on May 6, 1922, Nancy Georgianna Johnston was a happy surprise to her middle-aged parents and a beloved joy to her three older siblings. Her father, John Lord Johnston, operated the Johnston Pulp and Paper Mill, founded by his father, a country doctor who began the business as a way to supplement the “fees” his patients paid, which were primarily homegrown vegetables. Nancy’s mother, Georgia Mary Pomeroy of Utica, New York and Nancy’s many aunts on both sides were unusual women for the time: college-educated and professionals. Nancy was a direct descendent of, among others, Elder William Brewster from the Mayflower, famous revolutionary War General Seth Pomeroy, and decorated Civil War surgeon Henry L. Burritt.
An early and lifelong reader, Nancy skipped first grade in Port Leyden School; she graduated from the prestigious Emma Willard School in Troy, New York in 1939 and from Skidmore College in 1943. After college, she moved to New York City with college pal Miriam Lary of Maine, living in a series of walk-up apartments. While in New York, she worked at The American City Magazine, St. Bernard’s School, Save the Children, and The Town School. In the fall of 1945, she met Henry A. Walker, Jr. of Honolulu on a blind date arranged by her roommate. Henry, the third generation of his family to be born in Hawai’i, was serving on the U.S.S. Missouri, which was docked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Nancy was smitten by this handsome man, who sat cross-legged and barefoot on the floor of her apartment, serenading her with “Ku`uipo” on his ukulele. Shortly thereafter, Nancy’s roommate Miriam Lary married Nancy’s brother, making them sisters-in-law for the next 66 years. Nancy and Henry were married on a snowy March 10, 1946 in Port Leyden.
After additional time in New York, while Henry attended Columbia University, Nancy, who had never travelled west of Buffalo, courageously set forth for Honolulu, where she was to live happily for the next 65 years. She was married to Henry for 54 years until his death in 2000.
While raising two children (H. A. Walker, III “Ren” and Susan), Nancy worked tirelessly for her community. Foregoing the more glamorous causes of her peers, she devoted herself passionately to help children and families through volunteer work on behalf of Down’s syndrome, Head Start programs, Child and Family Service, St. Francis Hospital, Straub Hospital, and many others. She and her husband were jointly named Humanitarians of the Year by the Hawai`i Red Cross, in 1988. Nancy’s generosity of spirit, high moral character, and support of life’s less fortunate continue to serve as a model to her extended family.
An accomplished and gracious hostess while Henry Walker was Chairman and CEO of AMFAC, Inc., Nancy was friendly and polite to all, standing up for her beliefs even when it was socially awkward to do so. A true egalitarian, she believed in democratic principles and in the power of education to change lives. In recent years, she lived happily at One Kalakaua Senior Living, where she made good friends who provided her joy and comfort in her later years. Nothing in her long life provided Nancy more pleasure than spending time with her grandchildren, David and Peter Kowen, to whom she was an active and loving grandmother from the day they were born.
Nancy is survived by son Ren Walker of Kona, and his wife Brenda; daughter Susan Pomeroy Walker Kowen of Manoa and her husband Richard Kowen; grandson David Walker Kowen and his wife Tiare Salassa, currently of Minneapolis; and grandson Peter Kowen of Manoa. As a surrogate mother and grandmother to many, she was well-loved by nieces and nephews and great-nieces and nephews across the United States.
Nancy Walker was a true lady and a woman of substance; she loved her family and taught those around her the meaning of love. Hers was a life well-lived.
Burial will be private. A Memorial Service will be held Saturday August 11, 2012 at St. Andrew’s Cathedral at 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations in her memory may be made to the Institute for Human Services or Child and Family Service.