Meeting Jimmy Walker was a great opportunity. He flew to Michigan a year ago for our “reunion”. We hadn’t formally met yet, except by circumstance–during the sinking of the Italian luxury liner Andrea Doria. Jimmy was one of the brave rescuers who rode a lifeboat next to the capsizing ship. He and another sailor managed to pick up a couple dozen people and transport them to the oil tanker, The Allen. The event, which could have resulted in another “Titanic”, took place on July 25, 1956 45 miles southwest of Nantucket.
Jimmy and I quickly became friends during his couple days here— unquestionably, because of our special bond. I invited another survivor-friend, Germaine Strobel, to have dinner with us. Jimmy really liked that and in his gracious way, he expressed his gratitude, and said: “I’m really honored to be able to meet two survivors of the Andrea Doria.” He didn’t realize how honored WE were to meet a participant in the greatest sea rescue in peacetime history.
I especially got to know Jimmy while I was interviewing him. At first, he was hesitant to tell the whole story—perhaps feeling immodest. But then he continued, nervously explaining all the details in front of a camera. Although he probably didn’t realize it, his stance in the rescue was clear: he was not going to let danger stop him from helping his fellow man. Later, when I sent him a copy of the edited interview, I could sense he was beaming with pride. When he called to thank me, he explained, “I never told my family much about the Andrea Doria rescue. Now my grandchildren will know that their grandfather did something good for people, and be proud of me.”
Jimmy did something extraordinary! And that was only the beginning of a long and loyal service to the maritime industry—especially with the unions. He was a true Southern gentleman with a heart of gold. I feel blessed and grateful to have met him—back then and more recently.
Rest in peace, Jimmy, knowing you have accomplished your life’s purpose.
“For what is it to die, but to stand in the sun and melt into the wind?”