Personal Recollections of Governor Dan Walker

robin and carole roberts

Dear Saints,
 Growing up, I had my plan for my life. Like any red‐bloodied male of my era, I grew up reading biographies of famous American heroes. Being born in "Land of Lincoln", Abraham Lincoln was my favorite! I wanted to follow in his footsteps all the way to the White House! The article below shows that I was well on my way! But God had higher plans for my life! ("For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance" Romans 11:29). In the fall of 1975, I went to see Dr. John Rendleman, President of SIU‐E in his office. (He had just been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He was forty eight years old.) As I waited for the okay to go into the President's Office, Wilma Jean Bond, the Executive Secretary to the President said to me, "Robin, when you become Governor of Illinois, I will come to work for you!" Before I had even thought about what she had said, I heard these words come out of my mouth, "I will be either a U.S. Senator or wild‐eyed Pentecostal Preacher!" Wilma Jean Bond looked at me strangely as I wondered in my heart where did that come from? I did not have to wait a long time for the answer! In March 1976, President Rendleman died. In August 1976, I gave my life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ! In October 1976, I received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit! The rest is HIStory! 

Personal Recollections of Governor Dan Walker 

With the reporting of the death of former Illinois Governor Dan Walker this week, I was reminded of two specific personal “incidents” with the Governor. Dan Walker died in California at the age of 92. Before I share these personal “incidents”, a little background info might be helpful! 

In the spring of 1974, I was elected President of the Student Body at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville (SIU-E) for a one-year term. SIU-E student enrollment was about 13,500 then. I was re-elected in 1975. In my responsibilities as Student Body President, I had the “opportunity” to meet and interact with state officials and leaders. I had met with Governor Dan Walker personally on several occasions including in the Governor’s Office, the Governor’s Mansion, and on the campus of Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. 

As a Pre- Law undergraduate major, I learned first hand that everything was political in higher education in Illinois! The President of SIU-E was Dr. John Rendleman. Dr. Rendleman was an attorney by training and had been a protégé of Illinois Secretary of State Paul Powell. Both men were Democrats from southern Illinois, which had a much different mindset and focus than that of the Daley machine Democrats in Chicago! 

My first “incident” with Governor Walker was a direct result of Democratic “infighting”! Because of the upcoming primary election for Governor, Governor Walker was going visit to SIU-E. President Rendleman had not “endorsed” anyone yet, (let alone Governor Walker) so he did not want to meet Governor Walker on camera. President Rendleman asked me to meet Governor Walker and welcome him to campus on behalf of the University students, faculty, and staff. How could I say no? The Governor arrived in blue Dodge with his aides and security detail. He immediately bolted out of the auto and I rushed to greet him with a firm handshake and warm words of welcome! The St. Louis media was present for this occasion. It seemed like television cameras were everywhere! The Governor made a brief speech followed by a few individual interviews to the television media.

The last media interview was the most “interesting”! Herb Humphrey of KMOV-TV was conducting the “on site” interview with Governor Walker. Herb Humphrey was well known in St. Louis “market” for his “Nightside” reporting. Herb Humphrey had a deep, raspy voice like Broderick Crawford’s with a personal appearance best suited for “radio”! Herb was in his “fifties”, was at least forty pounds overweight, and his clothes were wrinkled and mismatched with his tie askew. 

About two minutes into the interview with Governor Walker, suddenly a strong gust of wind began to blow across the campus. The wind first lifted up Herb’s “hair” and then it blew completely off! Herb immediately dropped the microphone and stopped the interview with these words, “Excuse me, Governor! I’ve got to catch my hair!” Off Herb went chasing his toupe, trying to “step on it” as each wind gust moved it along just out of reach of his stride! Governor Walker and I began to laugh uproarishly, in spite of us trying to hold it 

back! Finally, Herb returned with his mission accomplished! He had returned his “hair” to its rightful place (albeit somewhat cock-eyed!) and was ready to begin again the interview with the Governor. As the interview began again, I could not help but notice that Governor Walker emitted a slight “wry smile” that was not there before and his eyes sure seemed to “twinkle”! At that very moment, I remembered the old show business adage “The show must go on!” 

My second “incident” with Governor Walker occurred during a trip to Illinois State Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion. I had been selected to receive a Lincoln Academy Award for Higher Education. (The Lincoln Academy consisted of leaders in business, academia, as well as government. The current Governor was an ex- official member of the board of trustees. The famous poet and author, Carl Sandberg was a recipient of Lincoln Academy Award.) Each public University in Illinois was allowed to nominate a candidate for the award. I was the recipient for SIU-E. My selection was purely “political” rather than academic! 

On the day of the award, President & Mrs. Rendleman, and his “special assistant” and bodyguard, Tom Leffler, accompanied my wife Carole and me. We flew to Springfield on a twin-engine eight passenger SIU Cessna piloted by a pilot and a co-pilot. Upon our arrival at the airport, we picked up a large rental car and drove to the State Capitol Building. We went to Senate camber where the President of the Senate presented each awardee a Lincoln Academy medal. Then, we were off to the Governor’s Mansion for a luncheon and reception held in honor of awardees. After the luncheon, President Rendleman motioned to me to follow him. I followed him as he approached Governor & Mrs. Walker near the end of a receiving line. Pleasantries were exchanged, and then Governor Walker inquired what we thought of Mrs. Walker’s “work”? (Mrs. Walker had raised private donations to renovate both the public and private living quarters of the Governor’s Mansion much like Jackie Kennedy did to the White House a decade earlier. Mrs. Walker was particularly motivated to renovate as she & Governor had seven children!) 

Before we could answer the Governor’s inquiry, he asked if we would like to see the renovated private quarters of the Governor’s Mansion? Again, before we could answer, he said, “Follow me!” Governor Walker led President Rendleman and me up the stairs to the private quarters. We went from room to room all the while Governor Walker was pointing out the new furnishings, wallpaper, paint, woodwork, tile, and carpet etc... It was a fascinating tour! (Remember, President Rendleman had not endorsed anyone yet in the upcoming gubernatorial Democratic primary where Governor Walker was seeking re-election!) Suddenly President Rendleman asked me a question, “Robin, when you become Governor, have you decided what changes you are going to make here?” I wisely, did not respond! As we were walking down a long hallway nearing the end of our twenty-minute intimate tour, President Rendleman blurted out, “Governor, if you don’t show me the plumbing, I am going to ruin Mrs. Walker’s new carpet!” (I noticed at the luncheon, President Rendleman partook of more than his “fair share” of the available champagne! ) 

Like a good host, Governor Walker quickly showed us “the plumbing!” 

(In case you are wondering, Governor Walker lost the gubernatorial Democratic primary to Secretary of State Michael J. Howlett, a Daley machine designate. Mr. Howlett lost the general election for Governor to his Republican opponent, Mr. James R. Thompson.) 

23© Living waters christian fellowship 2011