Retired Huntsman Robert James “Bob” Walker of Gay, Ga., died Sept. 18, 2012, after a lifetime devoted to hounds and hunting.
Mr. Walker was buried in his native Ireland, at Stradbally, Co. Waterford, in a poignant ceremony that was a fitting tribute to a man who spent most of his 84 years carrying the horn. Leading his funeral procession was a riderless hunt horse with boots turned backwards in the stirrups, about 10 couple of his beloved Waterford Foxhounds following behind. During the service, a piper played “The Foxchase” on uileann pipes (Irish bagpipes).
Before friends and family took their leave of Bob at graveside, his friend “Big Mike” Power blew “Gone Away” and his wife, Mary, blew “Going Home” on the hunting horn.
Mr. Walker was a third generation huntsman born June 13, 1928, in Lisrenny, Tallanstown, Co. Louth. He was the 12th of 13 children, three of whom became huntsmen. At age 15, Mr. Walker began whipping in to Billy Filgate at Louth Foxhounds. He became huntsman at the Fingal Harriers in 1952, and his career in Ireland included positions with the Mid Antrim Foxhounds and the Meath Foxhounds.
In 1960, Mr. Walker came to the United States to serve as huntsman at Bridlespur Hunt (Mo.), which was co-founded in 1927 by brewing magnate August A. Busch, Jr. In 1973, he returned to Ireland, where for nine years, he was huntsman for the Waterford. He always fondly remembered the Waterford pack of Old English hounds as his favorite because of their biddability, stamina and “cold noses,” which is the ability to hold a disappearing scent.
In 1982, Mr. Walker became huntsman at the East Down Foxhounds in Ireland before retiring in 1993. During hisretirement, he was associated with several hunts in the United States where his wife, Mary, served as hunt staff —Shamrock Hounds (Ga.); North Hills Hunt (Neb.); and Hard Away Whitworth Hounds (Ala.). Since 2010, the Walkers have owned and operated a boarding facility, Claddagh Kennels, in Gay, Ga.
Mr. Walker, who was quick with a smile and a joke, was fond of saying, “You never have a bad day hunting, just that some days are better than others.” One of his most memorable was a Boxing Day hunt during the war years, when he cast the hounds at 11 a.m. and didn’t return to the kennels until 11 p.m. The chase took the hounds through three counties, and only Mr. Walker, the master and two members of the field of about 60 people were on at the end. The hack back to the kennels took five hours, a long, cold ride in the dark because of the wartime blackout.
“Hounds were his passion,” said Mrs. Walker. “It all came back to the hounds. He used to say, ‘Without hounds, you have no hunt.’”
Mr. Walker was a self-taught rider who looked regal in the saddle. “It was a unique style that suited him well because he rarely came off,” recalled Mrs. Walker, who married her husband in 1987. He kept a twisted stirrup as a memento of the time a horse slipped and fell with him during a Bridlespur hunt, breaking his shoulder.
Mr. Walker rode up into his 80s. When he was 74, he took members of Shamrock Hounds hunting with Waterford Foxhounds and Dungarvan Harriers in Ireland, giving them the ride of their lives as he showed them how to jump Ireland’s famous ditches and gallop hard across country.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Walker is survived by four children from his first marriage to his late wife, Rose: Rosemary Fennell and Deirdre Clancy of Stradbally; Jimmy Walker of Dungarvan, Co. Waterford; and Bernadette Walker of Moreland, Ga.—13 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. His son, Robert, predeceased him.