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  • James T. 'Tokey' Walker
  • James T. 'Tokey' Walker

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    Wall of Honor Level:
    Air and Space Patron

    Honored by:
    Mr. Peter DeSoto

    Tokey Walker -What can I say about one of the world's most unforgettable characters? One description is, He never did the expected. Those who were around him on a regular basis all have stories about his different actions and reactions. We are hoping that many "Tokey Stories" will be shared during the fellowship hours that will follow this formal portion of the celebration of Tokey's life.

    Tokey was a LEADING EDGE GUY. He was born just ten short years after the Wright Brother's first flight. Ironically, he died in the year that we are celebrating the first century of flight. By the way, Tokey always claimed that his cousins, the Quick boys actually flew in a powered aircraft before the Wright Brothers. They were afraid everyone would think they were nuts, so they didn't tell anybody about it.

    Tokey started flying as a very young man when ordinary people just did not fool around with airplanes. In fact, he said mothers would pull their children across the street when they saw him coming. Airplane people were considered worse than motorcycle people. He bought his first airplane with his good friend at the time, S.O. (Sunbeam) Holmes, for $600.00. You can make your own opinions as to what kind of leading edge characters these guys were. Be assured there were not a lot of other daredevils in Huntsville, Alabama, flying around in their own small airplanes back in the 1930's.

    Like all members of the Greatest Generation, Tokey's life took a dramatic change as a result of World War II. He went to Athens, Georgia to become a flight instructor at the University of Georgia Naval ROTC program. This certainly was a leading edge deal. Obviously there were not many civilian flight instructors floating around in 1940. When the training assignment ran out because the Navy had enough instructors to do their training, Tokey moved to Marietta, Georgia, to become a test pilot flying B-29 bombers that were being produced by 30,000 people who had probably never been in an airplane before.

    Since Tokey was the only guy in the group of test pilots who could type, (Note: Leading Edge again), he would assign himself to fly with a barnstorming wing walker named Duke Krantz who liked to sleep in the co-pilot's seat while Tokey got to be pilot in command. Keep in mind that the biggest plane Tokey had flown up to that point was a single engine wooden propeller trainer, and now he was flying the largest most sophisticated aircraft in the world with four engines rated at 2200 horse power each. By the way, these guys flying these brand new planes right out of the factory never lost a single one.

    When the war ended, Tokey and his new wife, Sarah, needed to find a new way to support themselves. Their best friends, Robert and Peggy Word, had moved to Clearwater and had a new baby, so it was off to Clearwater. Robert and Tokey decided they could make a living running the Clearwater Airpark. The GI Bill was paying for flight training. This only lasted a few years and about the time they were going to starve to death, along came a flying student, J.R. Bristo, with an aluminum-framed screen. An interesting sideline here is that the frame came from a northern Alabama company not too far from where Tokey grew up.

    I can tell you that no company in the world has produced more insect screens than the enterprise that Tokey and Robert started in the back of an airplane hanger at the Clearwater Airpark. The leading edge characteristics continued as the company was one of the first to mass produce aluminum grilles and registers for central heating and air conditioning systems. I won't bore you with the many other areas that his leading edge ideas were an important factor, but believe me there are a lot of examples.
    Now, I would be remiss, if I didn't talk about Tokey's primary business philosophy which was "He who digs the most potatoes should get the most potatoes".

    This thinking permeated everything he believed in: Pay production people for what they produce. Pay sales people for what they sell. Pay managers based on their bottom line profits. Pretty simple basic stuff here, but this was all implemented way before the Harvard Business School types ever thought about it. He firmly believed that all you could give anyone was an opportunity. I can tell you from personal experience that there are thousands of people who have benefited from this very basic idea. Tokey was a great leader, but even more important, he gave others the confidence to become leaders. Lee Iacocca used a quote when he was with Chrysler that I think is appropriate here: Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way. If you ever rode with Tokey in a car, you know what Get Out of the Way means!

    Tokey and Sarah believed strongly that their most important job in life was to be teachers and they worked at that constantly. For that we are all grateful. Tokey has now joined his wife, Sarah, and we wish them blue skies and smooth air as they fly together once again.

    Wall of Honor profiles are provided by the honoree or the donor who added their name to the Wall of Honor. The Museum cannot validate all facts contained in the profiles.

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