Retired Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Robert J. Walker died peacefully the evening of Feb. 15 surrounded by his wife, Fran, and family members. He was 87.
Walker became the third MCPON Sept. 25, 1975. He relieved John D. Whittet and held the job for four years before Thomas Crow assumed duties in September of 1979.
Walker was born in Baldwin and joined the Navy at the age of 19 in 1948. He attended radarman “A” school in Boston and was assigned to destroyer U.S.S. McKean (DD 784). He served two-year tours aboard the destroyer escorts U.S.S. William Seiverling (DE 441) and U.S.S. Erben (DD 631).
While aboard Erben, he deployed to the Western Pacific in support of the Korean War. In October 1955, Walker reported to Norfolk as an instructor at radarman “A” school.
Eight years after joining the Navy, Walker was advanced to chief petty officer. In 1961 he was selected for E-8 and two years later for E-9. From 1970-72, he served as the senior enlisted advisor and leading chief for combat systems training at Fleet Combat Direction Systems Training Center, Dam Neck, VA.
In 1972, Walker’s rating was renamed “Operations Specialist” (OS). In November 1974, Vice Admiral Frederick H. Michaelis, commander, Air Force Atlantic surveyed his master chiefs for the job of master chief petty officer of the force. He selected Walker.
Walker was selected for MCPON in June 1975.
During his time in office, he directed chief petty officers toward what he described as the five “Principles of Professionalism”: technical expertise; job skill; leadership; motivation; and personal integrity and responsibility. Leadership was Walker’s favorite topic. He believed leadership qualities were learned, not innate qualities and he worked for four years to develop leadership training programs.
As the Navy’s senior enlisted Sailor, he instilled leadership training throughout the ranks. Through his efforts, a petty officer indoctrination course became mandatory for all new E-4s. New chiefs were also required to take indoctrination courses. His connection with the other services via their senior enlisted advisors allowed him to gain more quotas for senior and master chiefs at the Army’s Sergeants Major Academy and the Air Force’s Senior Enlisted Academy. Not content with sending Sailors to other services for leadership training, he initiated a recommendation to create a Navy Senior Enlisted Academy.
As MCPON, Walker demanded a lot from his senior enlisted advisors. In 1977, he re-organized top tier senior enlisted into a Fleet, Force and Command Master Chief program. He also pushed to create the Enlisted Surface Warfare Qualification (ESWS). He believed it promoted professionalism and enhanced the Navy.
“Bob was extremely revered by the force,” said current MCPON, Mike Stevens. “He influenced generations of Sailors and profoundly shaped many policies and procedures that our Navy has today and there is no doubt that his legacy will live on in each Sailor who serves our country.”
During an interview that he conducted after leaving the MCPON office he shared his thoughts on the Navy.
“I joined the Navy to make it a career,” said Walker. “I enjoyed it from the day I joined until the day I retired.”
Stevens said the entire Navy mourns the loss of one of the finest leaders the enlisted force has ever known.
“Bob Walker provided sound leadership during difficult times,” said Stevens. “He advocated for changes to ensure a more professional enlisted force and opened the lines of communication throughout the chain of command.
Stevens added, “I often tell Sailors that the MCPON’s office does not belong to any one person. It is the Sailors’ office and that sentiment is simply something that I’m echoing from Bob’s thoughts.”
Walker’s farewell message in the September 1979 issue of The Direct Line reflects a mood of intense pride in the role he played in the Navy’s progress to solid, communicative leadership. His final comments on leadership characterize his tenure:
“Honesty must be a day to day example of genuine concern for people, a professional approach to the mission, and the ability to lead and accomplish set goals. Never be afraid to admit mistakes or try new ideas, and by all means, let your subordinates have the opportunity to recommend and become part of the solution.
“There is no place for bigotry or racism in the Navy. We are all Sailors striving to achieve a common goal and that is the continued freedom our great nation enjoys. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the Navy is truly an honorable profession.”
Following his retirement on Sept. 28, 1979, Walker worked three years with the Non Commissioned Officers Association, rising to the position of president. Later he was employed as manager/public relations for the Jonathon Corporation, a ship repair/electronics business in Norfolk.
He is survived by his wife, Fran Walker, of 64 years; his children, Kathy Jones, Linda Campbell, Robert Walker Jr., Matthew Rice, and Michael Walker; 12 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. Walker was preceded in death by his daughter Michelle Walker Pfeffer.