Walker, Doug (1950-2015) and Maggie (b. 1953)

  • By Joel Connelly
  • Posted 9/18/2012
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10124
Doug Walker was a Seattle software entrepreneur -- cofounder of Walker, Richer & Quinn (WRQ) -- who became a linchpin in Puget Sound philanthropy, with national conservation commitments that include chairing the board of The Wilderness Society. A climber who did a difficult Himalayan ascent, he shared his skills with kids, and took a U.S. Senator up one of the West's great peaks. Maggie Walker is a master at work on boards of trustees and the connectivity that drives them, her work so valued that the University of Washington College of Arts & Sciences had a tropical fish named for her. Doug Walker was killed in an apparent avalanche on Granite Mountain on December 31, 2015.

Bottomless Energy

Doug Walker officially "retired" from his career as a successful software entrepreneur. But the South Carolina native, a 40-year Seattle resident, commuted by bicycle from The Highlands to downtown Seattle. He scaled formidable mountain walls. And, with wife Maggie, Walker challenged his community to greater levels of giving.

He once climbed 22,349-foot Ama Dablam in the Himalayas. As board chairman of The Wilderness Society, Walker oversaw the selection of a new president for the venerable conservation organization. He taught mountaineering skills to at-risk kids and recently guided Senator Maria Cantwell (b. 1958), D-Wash., to the 13,775-foot-high summit of the Grand Teton.

"We were all very tired after the climb," Cantwell recalled. "Doug was bounding about: He is a person of bottomless energy" (Connelly interview).

Making Connections

If limitless energy is one feature that defined Doug Walker, another was a rare talent for multitasking. He made a career of integrating computer systems to work together, and in the nonprofit sector integrated people to get things done (as has Maggie).

He was in 1981 a cofounder of Walker, Richer & Quinn (WRQ), a firm whose assets consisted of an initial $500 and the intellectual capital of its people. IBM had just come out with its personal computer, and companies were looking for paths to connect and integrate their computer systems.

WRQ developed software products that helped corporations link their desktop systems into their central IT. Central IT comprises the computing resources (main frame, server banks, corporate data bases, centralized application) that get centrally managed by an organization. Personal computers are those more directly controlled by the individual user.

WRQ’s ware was intended to bridge the two worlds. "We figured, O.K., if there were computers on desktops, what could be done to connect to large (main frame) computers," Walker explained.  "We developed systems and software that made that connection" (Connelly interview).

As Maggie Walker noted, "There was no Internet back in those days." The business that started with a $500 grew to serve eight million customers.

Doug and Maggie

Doug and Maggie Walker would tackle a curiously similar challenge, integrating into local philanthropy those who were cashing in on the technology revolution. The task involved motivating new donors as well as persuading local, regional, and national organizations to raise their sights. 

"We have less really, really rich people here than some other places in the country: Wealth is more spread out," said Maggie Walker.  "And people here came to their wealth when they were very young. They found it hard to find a way in ... A lot of it was pushing organizations to come to terms with the opportunity in front of them" (Connelly interview with Doug and Maggie Walker).

The "way in" led to formation of a multitude of new groups: Maggie Walker was a cofounder of Social Venture Partners, Doug Walker a founding member of the Seattle Parks Foundation.  It has meant the resetting of established charities. In more than a few cases, a Walker sat on or chaired the board. The Walkers would laugh at the term "power couple" but that is what they were. Better put, they were a "connecting" couple.

Rick Beckett, CEO of Global Partnerships, which has specialized in microfinance and small loans in developing countries, talked at a 2010 luncheon about coming to Seattle. He described the town as a "relational city" and "the smallest big city" where he had ever lived.

In most cities, Beckett said, you have six degrees of separation, adding: "In Seattle, it's only two degrees, and if you know Maggie Walker, there’s only one."

Doug Walker served as board chairman of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He served as secretary of the American Alpine Club. He also chaired the Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), board.

Maggie Walker was until recently board chair of the Museum of History & Industry, and chairs the Seattle Foundation. (“She’s my boss,” jokes ex-Seattle Mayor Norm Rice [b. 1943], who heads the foundation.)  Maggie Walker is co-chair of Waterfront Seattle (with ex-Mayor Charley Royer [b. 1939]) and sits on the board of Global Partnerships.

The group Forterra, formerly the Cascade Land Conservancy, drew 1,500 people to its recent annual conservation awards breakfast at the Seattle Trade & Convention Center. It didn’t exist 30 years ago and yet has protected 177,000 acres of land in the Puget Sound area and grown its efforts from Willapa Bay to the Kittitas Valley. Championing sustainable communities and balance in development, it has brought together groups that were bitter rivals in past environmental battles.

A "Doug & Maggie" table was prominent at the breakfast. Doug Walker served as a director of Forterra. He was instrumental in "selling" conservation philanthropy to the high-tech community. "We are tied to our environment here," he says. "We trade on our environment" (Connelly interview).

Doug Walker was active in the Conservation Lands Foundation, the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Coalition, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Land Trust Alliance. Maggie Walker is a former board chair of the Bullitt Foundation, the region's best-known conservation philanthropy.

"They seem to be everywhere but they never make a big thing of it," joked Tina Bullitt.  Doug Walker and her late husband, Stim Bullitt (1919-2009) climbed together, tackling the route known as Illusion Dweller in California’s Joshua Tree National Park. Walker headed the fundraising effort that raised $250,000 to purchase land on the Index Town Wall to create the Stimson Bullitt Climbing Reserve. An easy 90-minute drive from Seattle, the "climbing classroom" prepares its students for Patagonia and the Purcells.

The Conservation Lands Foundation was among Doug Walker’s national causes. He was what’s known in green circles as a "lands guy," and the Conservation Lands Foundation is dedicated to preserving America’s least known public properties, those managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

"The BLM manages 600 million acres of public lands, of which just 38 million acres are protected as wilderness. Most BLM holdings are lands on which there has been no formal disposition or designation," explained Walker. He worked with ex-Interior Secretaries Bruce Babbitt (b. 1938) and Cecil Andrus (b. 1931), actor Edward Norton (b. 1969), and documentary producer Dayton Duncan in an effort to create more National Conservation Areas in Bureau of Land Management lands.

Doug Walker, Climber

Doug Walker was often found in places he worked to save. He did winter climbs in Red Rock Canyon, a Bureau of Land Management National Conservation Area at the western edge of Las Vegas. He described climbs from the desert Southwest to the Limbo Gorge in North Carolina to the Coast Range and Purcell Mountains of British Columbia.    

Walker was matter-of-fact and low key about his sport. What initially attracted his interest?  "As a kid I liked to climb trees." Asked to talk about work as an American Alpine Club director, he prefaces by saying: "I am not a great climber."  Of Ama Dablam, a famed obelisk near Everest, he remarks:  "It was cool to be able to do that. Of course, I am not any kind of a great climber" (Connelly interview).

Walker described climbing the Northeast Buttress of Mt. Slesse as "not terribly problematic." (Slesse means "fang" in Salish. The British Columbia peak is celebrated in Fred Beckey’s Cascade Alpine Guide: Beckey was first to climb the Buttress.) The north peak of Mt. Index is "cool looking, complicated and dirty," says Walker, who loves these features.  

Walker celebrated retirement with two weeks in Yosemite, doing El Capitain and the east buttress of Middle Cathedral. He climbed the Howser, Pigeon, and Snowpatch Spires in the Bugaboos. He loved Forbidden Peak in the Cascades, and the Grand Wall on Stawamus Chief, the half-mile-high granite dome outside Squamish at which skiers gawk on their way to Whistler. 

Getting Young People Out of Doors

Walker took on a third "integrating" challenge.  He explained it bluntly: "Conservation has a problem: Too many of us are not very young."  He frets at figures showing that young people today prefer to spend time in front of their computers rather than in God’s great out-of-doors. "I want, while protecting the resource, to encourage people to see it: I want to see a broader class of people using the resource," he said (Connelly interview).

He worked with Metrocenter YMCA to introduce middle-school kids, some at risk, to the "freedom of the hills." The destinations ranged from Mt. Erie to the Olympic Coast, from Mt. Olympus to the Snow Creek Wall outside of Leavenworth. 

"Climbers have a responsibility to look after their mountain environment," Walker explained. "If you don’t promote a sense of ethics, who’s going to enforce it?  If you want mountain regions taken care of, you promote responsible behavior among the users" (Connelly interview).

From South Carolina to Seattle

Doug Walker was born on August 17, 1950, and grew up in the Piedmont region of South Carolina, where his Scots-Irish ancestors lived since the mid-eighteenth century. At Wade Hampton High School in Greenville, South Carolina, he was a high school classmate of arch-conservative Senator Jim DeMint. He went on to graduate with high honors from Vanderbilt.

Maggie Walker is a self-admitted "Yankee," a New Jersey native, born on February 15, 1953.  She moved to South Carolina as a teenager, met her husband in high school. In 1972, after Vanderbilt, the newly married couple came west to study at the University of Washington. Maggie majored in history and journalism and went into the commercial furnishings and design industry, for which she still consults.

The couple joked that they direct their money to candidates of a very different stripe than Jim DeMint. Doug Walker was notably generous with the 2008 campaign of Colorado Senator Mark Udall. Udall is a climber who has stood atop Aconcagua (highest peak in the Western Hemisphere) and 28,169-foot Kanchenjunga, third highest mountain in the world.

The Walkers do fess up to their integrating skills.

Maggie Walker, who earned two degrees from the University of Washington, found serving on boards to be "something I was good at." When it came to kids and mountaineering, says Doug Walker, "I have some skills at that. They needed volunteers"(Connelly interview with Doug and Maggie Walker). 

The MOHAI Incident

The Walkers have had their moments.  A couple years back, Mayor Mike McGinn (b. 1959) tried to get the city’s hands on a payment the state was making to the Museum of History & Industry: The MOHAI property was being acquired for the S.R. 520 bridge rebuild and expansion. 

The matter came to a head at City Hall in a meeting that museum supporters took care to pack. At a key point, Maggie Walker looked to the audience and asked, "How many of you support Mayor McGinn, who wants to reneg on a payment to MOHAI for selling its land?"  Hardly a hand went up. The Seattle City Council quickly axed the idea.

If the truth be told, such moments of drama are rare. Getting stuff done on a board of directors can require the patience of Job. "Doug has more of that than I do," joked Tom Campion, founder/chairman of Zumiez and creator of a namesake foundation that champions conservation causes.

At The Wilderness Society, Doug Walker was a Westerner occupying the chairman’s seat in an organization with a majority of board members from the Northeast. The society’s departing president, Bill Meadows, had been on the job for 16 years. The board ended up seeking out a person who hadn’t even applied, Jamie Williams, a 20-year veteran of The Nature Conservancy.

"Jamie has a history of big complicated deals ... . He is a lands guy," said Walker. He cited the Montana Legacy Project, a $500 million, three-phase purchase of more than 310,000 acres of Plum Creek Timber land in Montana, midwifed by The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Lands.

Like so many in the Northwest, Doug and Maggie Walker came here from somewhere else. They were like a lot of people -- except, of course, Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen -- who were not from here, but succeeded, went native, and gave back.

The Walkers

The Walkers could make your head turn with what they were doing at any given moment. Maggie Walker spoke of her board work on the new Bullitt Foundation headquarters and the relocation of MOHAI to Lake Union. Doug Walker spoke of a class he was teaching the following weekend at The Mountaineers, and his plans to return to the Bugaboos in British Columbia.

He still had destinations in mind.  "I want to do Robson," he said, referring to 12,972-foot Mt. Robson, highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.

Mt. Robson is a bear of a climb, a mountain tall enough to create its own micro-climate. Doug Walker would likely manage to be low-key about it, as he was at a West Seattle garden party a couple years back. He mentioned enjoying good weather on a just-completed climb.   

Where were you, asked a fellow guest? Mt. Slesse, Walker replied. What route did you take?  "We climbed the Northwest Buttress!" There aren’t too many climbers where you’d have to work to dig out that destination.

Doug Walker was hiking and snowshoeing with friends on Thursday, December 31, 2015, on Granite Mountain. When the wind picked up, his friends decided to turn back, but he continued on, on a route he'd traversed at least 200 times. When he failed to return a search was begun. After an all-night search, he was found dead on Friday, January 1, 2016, likely killed by an avalanche, according to the King County Sheriff.

Among the statements of grief and condolence coming in from around the state and the nation was one from Martha Kongsgaard, chair of the leadership council of Puget Sound Partnership: The region has lost “a great civic leader, conservationist and philanthropist who had a passion for the outdoors and instilled that same passion in others ("Doug Walker, Killed in Apparent Avalanche...")


Sources: Joel Connelly interview with Doug Walker, March 15, 2012, Seattle; Joel Connelly interview with Doug and Maggie Walker, May 21, 2012, Seattle; Joel Connelly interview with Tom Campion, April 2, 2012, Seattle; Joel Connelly interview with Tina Bullitt, Seattle, April 19, 2012; Joel Connelly interview with Gene Duvernoy, May 17, 2012, Seattle; Joel Connelly interview with Senator Maria Cantwell, April 12, 2012, Mercer Island; Joel Connelly interview with Norm Rice, Seattle, April 5, 2012; Joel Connelly email exchange with Bruce Babbitt, April 6, 2012; Jean Godden, "The Smallest Big City," Jean’s Blog, May 6, 2010, Seattle City Council (http://godden.seattle.gov/); Fiona Cohen, “Meet the Maggie Walker Fish,” SeattlePI.com, October 11, 2009; “MOHAI Supporters Pack City Council Meeting,” Seattle Weekly, September 27, 2010; Fred Beckey, Beckey’s Black Book:  Fred Beckey’s 100 Favorite North American Climbs (Seattle: Patagonia Books, 2012); Susan Kelleher and Lynda V. Mapes, "Doug Walker Killed in Apparent Avalanche, Used Tech Wealth to Spread Love for the Outdoors," The Seattle Times, January 1, 2015 (http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/obituaries/doug-walker-used-tech-wealth-to-spread-his-real-love-for-the-outdoors/).
Note: This essay was updated on January 2, 2016, and corrected on January 4, 2016.

Related Topics:   Biographies | Environment

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