In 1998, at her first Express-News Community Advisory Board meeting, Adriana Villafranca was sitting next to Publisher Larry Walker. Before the meeting, Walker whispered to her, “You know, you are the youngest one here at the table, right?”
When the 28-year-old UTSA development officer nervously agreed, Walker told her he was the oldest — and to not hold back and to use her voice.
Last Thursday night, upon learning Walker had died at the age of 79, Villafranca recalled his words. “Boy, advice like that coming from a gentle giant was huge for me,” she said. “I follow it to this day.”
Encouraging new voices and providing them a platform are among Walker’s enduring legacies.
Walker wasn’t born with ink in his veins, an instinctive taste for journalism or the dream of one day running a newspaper. He was an accountant by training, and a very successful one by the time his career intersected with newspapers.
Walker was publisher of this newspaper from 1990 to 2005, serving as chairman in 2006. During that time, the native of Macon, Ga., established himself as one of San Antonio’s civic and philanthropic leaders. He and his wife, Caroline, became interwoven with the city through the newspaper and their many interests and charitable concerns.
A good newspaper publisher is deeply engaged with the community, celebrating its strengths while being part of a larger effort to confront its challenges, and concerned about making a profit while committed to serving the readers. A good publisher is one of the most powerful people downtown, but one who understands the responsibility to use that power for those not as fortunate. A good publisher gives an Editorial Board journalistic freedom, even when he or she might disagree.
Walker was all of this. Politically conservative, he was a populist who pulled for the underdogs.
This Editorial Board became more diverse under Walker. He hired its first female editorial page editor, and its first Latina and African American board members. He would say that if you’re going to give an opinion, it can’t be just that of one group because nobody learns and nobody grows.
Because Larry Walker was once its publisher, the Express-News continues to encourage new and different voices to be heard.
San Antonio Express-News