When Reverend Robert Walker needed to clear his mind and get ready for a Sunday sermon, he hit the trails of Harrison Hills.

“He loved to walk and everyone knew him for it,” his son, Jason, said. “He was also walking around the neighborhood and talking to everyone.”

Reverend Walker died on Tuesday after a brief respiratory illness. He was 80 years old.

A pastor at First Baptist Church in Taranto for 30 years, Walker was known as much for his social skills as he was for his daily escapades.

“He liked to sit on his porch and talk to everyone,” according to his son. “My brother and I joke that he was someone who never met a stranger. If you were sitting next to him, you would know everything about him in about 20 minutes.

Karen Snair, executive director of the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches, called Walker a wonderful friend. She said the community had lost a true champion for those in need.

Walker served on the association’s board of directors for more than three decades and chaired various committees over the years.

“He never failed to ask how you were doing and also how all your family members were doing – always addressing them by name,” Snair said. “You could always count on him when you needed anything.”

Walker has faithfully participated in the local annual fundraiser, Walk for Hunger, and has prided himself on raising substantial donations for the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches food bank. He volunteered monthly at his food distributions, leading a prayer for the volunteers and then distributing bags of food to hundreds of people in need.

Walker was a strong advocate for the Family Promise program and also hosted homeless families for many years, Snair said.

“He had a real heart for those who were hurting,” Snair said.

Dick Potter, a longtime friend and member of the First Baptist Church, said Walker was one of the most approachable people he had ever met.

“He was never too busy for anyone,” Potter said. “He was very outgoing and really enjoyed talking to everyone he met.”

Potter laughed and said that Walker never really retired, even after he left as head of the church.

“He kept calling, checking on the church people,” Potter said. “He would spend hours and hours in the hospital if you had someone in there.”

Walker oversaw the chaplaincy program that AVAC previously ran at Allegheny Valley Hospital in Harrion. He continued to serve after the association of churches ceased to conduct the service.

He was also chairman of the Highlands Community Action Committee.

“He will be greatly missed by many,” Snair said.

Born in New England, Walker received his bachelor’s degree from Barrington College in Rhode Island and later earned his master’s degree in theology from Eastern Baptist Seminary in Philadelphia.

All these years later, Walker was still speaking with a Boston accent, Jason said.

“He was proud of the accent,” Jason Walker said. “But he was a Steelers fan.”

Walker served 15 years as a pastor at Lincolnville Baptist Church near Erie before moving to the Natrona Heights section of Harrison in the mid-1980s.

He settled with his wife and four sons in a church parsonage along Third Street. When he retired from the church five years ago, he moved a block away to a house along Second Street.

At the same time, he suffered from health problems and had a heart pump implanted. This did not slow down his daily walks. He carried a small briefcase in one hand that contained the batteries for the pump.

“He never complained,” Jason said. “It showed his resilience.”

Jason Walker said his dad also enjoys reading, touching up antiques and spending time with his family.

He recalled that it was difficult for his father to withdraw from the church, in part because it allowed him to communicate and help so many different people.

“He was one of those people who never said anything bad about anybody,” Jason said. “He found the good in everyone.”

Visitation will be from 1 to 3 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at Duster Funeral Home, 347 E. Tenth Ave., Tarentum.

A memorial service will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at First Baptist Church in Taranto, with Rev. Kenneth E. Thompson and Rev. Dr. Felicia Brock officiating. The burial will be private.

Tawnya Panizzi is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Tawnya at 724-226-7726, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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