COLUMN: The many blessings of Rolly Walker

Rolly Walker (third from left on back row) stands between his two sons Scott and Matt during a golf trip to Robert Trent Jones in Alabama.

by Malcolm Butler


We all have them.

Those people who enter our lives someway, somehow along this road we call life. The ones who make a true difference.

The late Rolly Walker was one of those for me. And I know I’m in a large fraternity when it comes to the Rolly Walker Fan Club. There are a lot of us who would run for president of this group.

Mr. Rolly entered my life through my friendship with his twin sons, Matt and Scott. Almost four decades ago at Ruston High, I became friends with the two and thus Mr. Rolly (and wife Johnnie Lou and daughter Whitney) entered my world.

It was much more than I deserved for sure.

I could write a version of this tribute to Mr. Rolly that would rival War and Peace, but nothing that I will say here will adequately portray the impact he had on me and so many others. It’s impossible for anyone to put into words what he meant over the past 40 years to Lincoln Parish.

Mr. Rolly passed away Sunday after a year-long battle with Father Time and all that it brings our way late in life.

And as much as we all selfishly hate it – the world is a much better place with the Mr. Rollys of the world in it – we know he has gone home. I am thankful for that.

Mr. Rolly spent his life doing at least two things at a Hall of Fame level: loving and raising his family and ministering to so many of us who quite honestly didn’t deserve his wisdom and compassion.

The man is legendary around these parts. A longtime minister at Trinity Methodist Church, he shared his gifts with some other churches during his career as well. A man who started out as an educator and coach early in life found his true calling as a minister. What a blessing he was to so many.

One of my best memories of Mr. Rolly came at the rehearsal dinner for his son Scott and then fiance, Buffy. His words have stuck with me all these years. When addressing the room that night, he talked about how important it is to have great friends in your life.

He was referencing Scott (and Matt’s) group of friends who made up a large part of the room that night. He spoke from a parent’s perspective, something none of us could truly relate to at the time. He talked about how our group of friends — especially at an high school and college age — can have such a huge and lasting impact on our direction in life.

It sounds like an obvious statement now, but it really hit home with me that night. I forget a lot of things these days, but I will always remember those words and how sincere he was. In my mid-20s at the time, it wasn’t something I had thought much about. Maybe it was because I have always been fortunate to have great friends who were a big part of my journey.

But for Mr. Rolly to connect the dots in that moment was special in a lot of ways. It was very wise. Very Mr. Rolly-esque. I will always be grateful for those words and that moment. Small, but meaningful for me.

It was just a small example of the man’s wisdom. He had plenty of other sides.

One being a great sense of humor.

When he wasn’t providing guidance and wisdom, Mr. Rolly enjoyed giving me a hard time about my love for the New York Yankees. Typical of a Boston Red Sox fan. To this day, I’m still convinced to this day he was the one who put a Boston Red Sox bumper sticker on my Isuzu Rodeo.  No telling how long I drove around Ruston with that ugly thing before I finally noticed.

He never would own up to it, but I’m confident. Yeah, the man had quite the sense of humor.

I’ve written before about our group of friends’ annual golf pilgrimage to Robert Trent Jones for the past two-plus decades. Mr. Rolly was a part of that trip for a number of those summer excursions in Alabama. Not too many people could embed themselves into our rag-tag group of wanna-be golfers, but Mr. Rolly did.

His presence made us all better. Not so much with our golf games, but just better. None of us wanted to let Mr. Rolly down.

He always said he could never understand how our group could remain such close friends despite the constant and unrelenting hard time we gave each other on that trip. He was right. It has to be a God thing because we don’t pull punches and yet we are all still the best of friends.

The man loved golf. A lot of his golf game had faded by the time he went on these trips as arthritis made it tough for him to grip his clubs, but he loved being out there with us and we loved having him as part of our group.

Well, most of the time at least. Did I mention the sense of humor?

I will always remember Mr. Rolly stomping on an old pair of sunglasses on a certain tee box in Birmingham, mimicking this writer who had done the exact same thing to my new pair of sunglasses a few years earlier on the same exact tee box. His timing was impeccable. Funny stuff, Mr. Rolly. Funny stuff.

That same year he took an already almost-broken sand wedge to the green on No. 17 on a certain course in Birmingham. Following numerous “failed attempts” to get out of the sand, Mr. Rolly snapped the club in half, throwing it into the lake. Three of the four in the foursome thought it was hysterical. Our buddy Mitch Spillers — who most definitely did the same thing a few years earlier on the same hole — did not. Now that, Mr. Rolly, was most definitely funny.

Then there is still the “mystery” of a bag of sand mailed to Mitch just weeks prior to the following year’s golf trip. Mitch is still convinced it was sent by none other than Mr. Rolly. Again, the man had a sense of humor.

But most of all the man had an ability to relate to people in all areas of life. He was always ready with a kind or encouraging word. I, for one, will miss that.

As he is laid to rest later this week, I know a lot of people in our community will have plenty of Rolly Walker stories. He touched so many people’s lives, and our community is blessed to have had him and his family as part of it for the past 40 years.

Almost 30 years ago, he told a room full of 20-somethings how blessed his sons were to have such a great group of friends.

But if truth be told, we were the ones who were blessed. Our friendships with Matt and Scott provided a pathway for Rolly Walker to enter our lives.

And for that I will forever be grateful.