Whenever I hear the name “John Walton” in the media, I automatically think of good old John-Boy Walton of “The Waltons” television series fame. The show was a favorite in my household, and we still often say “goodnight” to John-Boy, out of habit, after my husband and I say goodnight to each other in the evening.
Of course, John-Boy Walton wasn’t in the news this week–the regular series ended in 1981 after all. Making headlines was the real John Walton, son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and heir to the multi-billion-dollar fortune.
While John Walton never experienced the poverty John-Boy had to face, they did have something in common. The Waltons was all about family values–a focus John Walton shared.
Walton, well known as a philanthropist, founded the Children’s Scholarship Fund in 1998 to open the doors to college education to low-income families in America. He has literally donated hundreds of millions of dollars to helping America’s impoverished youth.
Jim Courtovich, a colleague of Walton’s who helped manage the operations of the Fund, says Walton “didn’t just donate money, he donated time and energy.”
Walton also has several formal accolades under his belt. As a Green Beret medic veteran, he was awarded the Silver Star for saving lives during his tenure of service–a rare honor among the members of Forbes’ list of the richest people in the world. That’s right, in March of this year, Walton was also included in Forbes’ famous list, ranking at number 11 with a net worth of over $18 billion.
Walton has served on Wal-Mart’s Board of Directors since 1992, and he also serves on the company’s Strategic Planning and Finance Committee. Personally, Walton holds 11.96 million shares of Wal-Mart stock, and his family’s holding company, Walton Enterprises LLC, shares ownership of another 1.68 billion shares of the stock, which represents the Walton heirs’ investments.
Walton’s ex-wife, Mary Ann Gunn, says she has “nothing negative to say about the man at all.” Wal-Mart Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs says, “I think all you can say is he was just a good man…”
Tragically, on Monday of this week, shortly after takeoff from Jackson Hole Airport, Walton’s experimental ultralight aircraft crashed in Grand Teton National Park, killing John Walton on impact.
As the Walton family–and its extended Wal-Mart family– grieves and thinks fondly of their son’s strong philanthropic values and the legacy he left behind so suddenly, so too will the millions of Americans who John Walton touched through his generous nature and his commitment to helping young people achieve their goals.
For me, “Goodnight John-Boy” has a new meaning–and it
serves as a reminder that charity really does start at home, no matter what your circumstances.
Goodnight John Walton. Rest in peace.