James “Skootcherman” Walker is many things to many people: son, friend, teammate, confidant, student, teacher, baker. One thing he is not is forgotten.
Since his death in October, students, staff and alumni at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine in Old Westbury and Boston University in Massachusetts have spent many of their waking hours thinking of Walker — who was killed as he crossed a street in Bay Shore — and finding ways to honor his memory now and well into the future.
“James was a lightning bolt, and as you know, when a lightning bolt strikes, you never forget,” said Linda Darroch-Short, director of student life at the osteopathic college on the campus of the New York Institute of Technology. “People wanted to be around James, and so in his death we wanted to make sure we honored him in a way that, after we are long gone, he will continue to be remembered.”
On May 18, days before Walker, who was 26, would have graduated with a medical degree, the school will hold a memorial service to dedicate a tree in his memory and announce a scholarship in his name.
At Boston University, where Walker earned his undergraduate degree in 2007 and played volleyball, the program’s annual alumni tournament was renamed to honor him. The inaugural James Walker Memorial Alumni Tournament was held in March.
Loved a challenge
Walker grew up in Levittown, where he developed a love of sports and people. His family nicknamed him “Skootcherman” because he was always moving around.
“James was always on the go,” said his father, Phil Walker, 54, a New York City correction officer. “He couldn’t sit still and always wanted to be challenged.”
As an avid athlete, James Walker played basketball, baseball and volleyball, and also collected baseball cards. Though friends and teammates said he was competitive, he didn’t focus on victory.
“To James it was never about winning,” according to his father. “It was more for the fun and enjoyment of something, and if his team happened to win, that was an extra bonus.”
Walker graduated from Levittown’s MacArthur High School in 2003 and got a degree in human physiology at Boston University. It was his love of helping people that led Walker to pursue a career in medicine.
“At a young age he was afraid of blood, but once he got over that he said he wanted to be a doctor,” his father said. “He definitely had the handwriting to be a doctor,” he noted with a laugh.
At Boston University and the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine, Walker stood out in more ways than one. He was more than 6 feet tall and often towered over others, but friends referred to him as a gentle giant, a defender of the underdog and always there with a shoulder to cry on.
“James was one of the strongest people that I know,” said Ashley Matsumura, 26, a Boston University classmate. “He valued his time and made every moment count.”
Walker’s closest friends, Sean Depuy, 27, of Wantagh, and Chris Berglind, 26, of New Haven, Conn., said their bond extended beyond friendship, and they have vowed never to forget him.
“James wasn’t just our best friend; he was our brother, always putting others before himself,” Depuy said.
At his school in Old Westbury, he was the poster boy for the medical program, mentoring younger students like Greg Smith, 24, a friend and first-year student, and filming a promotional video for the college.
Debbie Claar, an academic counselor at Boston University who helped Walker plan his undergraduate schedule, said he was a natural leader.
“If James wanted to organize events for students, he found a way to make it meaningful and always got students to participate,” she said.
Before he graduated, he received the Sargent College Student Activity Award and the Boston University Scarlet Key Award, the school’s highest service award.
Though he was big on community service, his stepmother, Maureen Walker, 56, said he was also quite fond of something else.
“He liked to cook and bake,” she said, noting that white chocolate chip and cranberry cookies were his specialty.
A shared mission
The memorial service at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine will be held near a pond. Walker’s father will be in attendance with his constant companion — what he calls a memory bag of his only child. It has pictures of Walker, information on the accident that killed him and his awards and honors.
“I take it with me everywhere I go,” he said. “I’m James’ advocate, and it’s up to me and my wife to keep his memory alive every day.”
It is a mission shared by those in his extended academic families.
“His calm confidence, intellect and humility is a rare combination to find . . . ” said Dr. Robert Hill, chairman of the department of anatomy at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine and one of Walker’s professors. “He will be missed by everyone and by those who would have been his lucky patients.”