John Thomas Walton

John Thomas Walton
October 8, 1946 – June 27, 2005

John Thomas Walton, 58, died on Monday, June 27, when his ultralight aircraft crashed as he turned to land at Jackson Hole Airport. Walton was the second son of Wal-Mart founder Sam M. Walton and his wife Helen Robson Walton. Born on October 8, 1946 in Newport, Arkansas, the family moved to Bentonville, Arkansas in 1950, home of the Wal-Mart corporate office.

Though a quiet, private, humble man, John was an outspoken advocate for K-through-12 education reform and school choice, a commitment he encouraged the Walton Family Foundation to embrace. In 1998, John co-founded the Children’s Scholarship Fund to provide low-income families with funds that would allow a choice of attending independent schools.

John truly believed, and convinced his family, that no other single area of philanthropic activity would have the breadth of impact that improving K-through-12 education in America would have. He felt that improving educational opportunities for all people could have a positive impact on every single societal challenge facing the country today, from crime to productivity to economic health and growth, to true equality.

“He was a staunch, unbending warrior in the battle for parental choice,” said Howard Fuller, Chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. “I once asked John why he supported this movement. He said that poor children were getting a raw deal and he wanted to do something about it. John put his money, his intellect, and his energy into the effort to empower low income and working class families to be able to choose the best learning environment for their children.”

Since moving to Jackson Hole in 1999, John became a supporter of the local schools. The Teton Science Schools and Journeys School in Jackson have benefited greatly from John’s knowledge of and commitment to education. So too has the public school district and the rest of Wyoming through John’s active support of Teton County’s Public Education Coalition and the Jackson Hole Institute. He loved supporting new, effective models for education and he worked tirelessly on their behalf.

The airplane he died in was an appropriate symbol of his love for life, zeal for adventure and passion for innovation. John had recently flown his ultralight aircraft from West Virginia to Nebraska, calling his brother Jim from a laundromat after being grounded by headwinds. John couldn’t stop talking about the people he had met and the extraordinary hospitality he experienced in the American heartland.

John embraced unconventional new theories with a curiosity that never ceased. From the souped-up Chevy II “delivery” wagon he convinced his father to buy long ago, to the 27-foot “trailerable trimaran” that he helped Corsair Marine produce, he was always tinkering with something.

An accomplished athlete, John swam like a fish and loved to sail. He was an all-state football player in high school and played at Wooster College before enlisting in the Army.

A Green Beret medic who served in Vietnam, John was awarded the Silver Star for saving the lives of several members of his unit while under intense enemy fire.

He pursued a variety of business interests throughout his life, including work as a crop duster in the 1970s and as a boat builder in the 1980s and 1990s. More recently John formed True North, a holding company comprised of businesses ranging from boat building with advanced composites, to research and development in solar panels and diesel engines as well as numerous venture capital investments.

His interest and support of diet-related cancer research resulted in the establishment of a feasibility study of the Women’s Health Eating Study (WHEL) in 1993, leading to a 23 million-dollar grant from the National Cancer Institute with an enrollment of 3000 women. The results of the study are expected in December 2006.

In 1992, John joined the Wal-Mart Board of Directors and served as an engaged member of that board. Most recently he served on the Strategic Planning and Finance Committee of the Wal-Mart Board. He was also an active member of the Walton Family Foundation Board of Directors for many years.

John fully embraced the outdoor lifestyle of Jackson Hole: snowboarding in the winter and mountain biking in the summer. This spring his mountain bike didn’t receive as much attention as his new ultralight.

John is survived by his wife Christy and son Lukas; his mother Helen; sister Alice; brothers Rob and Jim; and their families. He’s remembered by his son Lukas: “In our family we had a lot of love, for each other and the life we shared. My dad died doing what he loved to do.”

The family wishes not to receive flowers, but they request that anyone wishing to honor John may do so by making a memorial to one of the following organizations:

Alliance for School Choice
5080 N. 40th Street, Suite 375
Phoenix, AZ  85018
Clint Bolick, President

Children’s Scholarship Fund
8 West 38th Street, 9th Floor
New York, NY  10018-6229
Darla Romfo, President

Teton Science Schools
P. O. Box 68
Kelly, WY  83011
Jack Shea, Executive Director

There will be a private service for the family.  Cards and notes may be sent to the family at the following address:

Walton Family
P. O. Box 1508
Bentonville, AR  72712

In lieu of flowers, the Walton family requests that anyone wishing to honor John do so by making a memorial gift to one of the following organizations:

Alliance for School Choice
5080 N. 40th Street, Suite 375
Phoenix, AZ  85018
Clint Bolick, President

Children’s Scholarship Fund
8 West 38th Street, 9th Floor
New York, NY 10018-6229
Darla Romfo, President

Teton Science Schools
PO Box 68
Kelly, WY 83011
Jack Shea, Executive Director