I was asked to speak at Jeff Walker’s funeral last week. He was a long-time friend that will be sorely missed…Here are my comments to the overflow crowd that came to pay their respects to Jeff and his family at First Baptist Church…
It’s an honor to celebrate my friend Jeff Walker today with all of you, and I know he would have been so proud and humbled to see this amazing show of love and support for him and his family.
A lot of great themes come to mind when talking about Jeff—integrity, devotion to family, friendship, his passion to grow country music on a global basis and all the boards and organizations that he loved to serve on. And as we all know, Jeff loved to laugh and make puns… for example he’d take a word like “fish” and get you hooked, then reel you in and never flounder or scale back until you got caught…, well you get the idea..
Jeff and I first became friends in the early ‘80s. I met him on my rounds handing out MusicRow magazine and it wasn’t long before our wives, Terri and Susana met and also became friends. And Christy and Jon, I clearly remember you both running around in diapers. You should know your Dad was so proud of how you each have become adults with your own families and the enormous contribution you’ve made to running and expanding Aristomedia.
The Rosses and the Walkers became a family-wide friendship destined to last and we have supported each other through many special life moments like holidays and our children’s weddings.
In the early ‘90s Nashville was going through a major change and Jeff decided the industry needed a town meeting-type gathering to discuss new strategies and improve lines of communication. Together we formed the MusicRow Industry Summit event and ran it for three years. Lots of times a business partnership will destroy a friendship, but not with Jeff…
We’d meet at Perkins in Hillsboro Village for a few Saturdays to plan out everything, just the two of us and about ten cups of coffee—panels, panelists, moderators, luncheons, award banquets… We had some spirited debates, but never even a ripple of disagreement. After three successful years, the town was in the middle of a boom time with almost 24 major labels on the row and we decided to return full time to our core businesses.
Well, just for a little while, because it was’t long before Jeff started telling me I absolutely needed come to Canada to attend the Canadian Country Music Awards and cover the event in MusicRow so Nashville could appreciate it. I remember our first junket in Calgary, we were exploring the city and about to cross a street with a big sign that read “no J-walking.” I said, “Whoa, big guy, slow down we don’t want to get arrested up here.” Jeff simply smiled and looked at me without missing a beat and said, “Hey, if the police ask I’ll just show them my license—J. Walker.”
CCMAs became a regular annual event for us and Jeff would usually come up with some new pun that was a gemstone. Like the time we were in St John on the Northern Atlantic coast and the whole city was so fogged in you could barely see your hand. I asked Jeff, “Well what do you think of this place?” “Not to be mist,” he replied…
We had lots of laughs, but as a result of all those trips, for many of the Canadian entrepreneurs, artists and companies that have made Music City their home, Jeff was often the first Nashville Ambassador they met and the one they relied on for help.
I was blessed to have such a great friend, but as evidenced by everyone here today, my experiences were but a pebble in the pond because like ripples spreading out in all directions, Jeff touched lives everywhere he went.
I want to share with you some of the 100s of comments that people have said about Jeff in the past few days…
• He made people feel valued and included
• One of the first to truly welcome me to town, the epitome of class
• More than anything, Jeff loved his family, and that big smile grew even bigger when those two grand daughters arrived.
• I always thought there were two or three of him because everywhere you went…he was there.
• Mayor Karl Dean noted, “He played an important role in spreading country music overseas”
I’m proud to call Jeff Walker my friend and he knew that. And I was so happy to see him honored and recognized multiple times in the past few years not only because he was deserving, but because I know it meant a lot to him to know he was appreciated.
I’ve never been where Jeff is now, but I can imagine him up there, already meeting people and working the room in true music industry fashion.
And of one thing I’m sure—if there’s a Board of Directors or a committee to join, he’s already started figuring out how he can best help. And no doubt everyone up there will be a lot better off because of his good work, just as we’ve all enjoyed and benefitted from his good work down here.
Goodbye my friend, RIP.