Ron and Anne Walker probably would have been invited to Washington, D.C., next week for inaugural events had Arizona Sen. John McCain been elected president.
Instead, the Republican diehards will watch the Tuesday inauguration of Democrat Barack Obama on television at their Oro Valley home with hope in their hearts and an appreciation for the history-making moment.
“Obviously, there’s the historical perspective and significance of the first African-American, multi-racial president. I think it’s an exciting time and I wish him well,” said Anne Walker, 69.
“We’ve just crossed a barrier that we needed to cross a long time ago,” Ron Walker, 71, said.
The Walkers have a unique vantage point on presidents and Inauguration Days.
Ron Walker was a key organizer for three inaugurations. The couple have attended seven swearing-in ceremonies – from Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush to George W. Bush.
The Walkers, who graduated from the University of Arizona in 1960, moved back to Tucson in 1979.
Ron Walker, a retired government worker, began his career in Washington, D.C., as an advance man for Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign. He would serve as a special assistant to President Nixon and director of the White House advance office during Nixon’s first term. In 1973, he was named by Nixon as director of the National Park Service.
“When (Nixon) won in 1968, those of us on staff who had survived the road were invited to help not only on the inaugural, but the transition as well,” Walker said.
He helped coordinate the parade and the swearing in on Capitol Hill, held at the time on the Capitol’s east portico. It has since been moved to the west front. He had a role in planning the evening’s balls and accompanied President Nixon throughout the day’s events, “helping him figure out where he was going and what he was doing.”
Walker said inaugurations for both president and staff are more stressful than exciting. It is “full steam forward.”
The president has the pressure of delivering an inaugural address to the nation. There are receptions to attend and countless hands to shake. The new president is physically moving into the White House as the old president is moved out. New staff is arriving, trying to figure out the locations of the offices and the bathrooms.
“It’s a pain in the (bleep) is what it is,” Walker said.
It’s also the time when the new president realizes the great burden of the office.
There’s a realization, “which I’m sure is happening to President-elect Obama as we speak, of the awesome responsibility that comes with sitting in the Oval Office,” he said.
Ron Walker was the White House representative to the inaugural committee for Nixon’s second term, and a senior adviser for Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration. In 1985, he was asked to be chairman of President Reagan’s second inaugural, after having run the Republican convention in Dallas in the summer of 1984.
“I finished the convention in August. (Reagan) called me probably in September. It’s bad form and bad luck to be doing anything for inauguration before the election. . . . Anyway, we did not make any announcements until after the election in November, but I had been working on it probably since September behind the scenes, getting organized and picking my personnel,” Walker said.
He had to find sponsors and raise money for the inaugural events, put together a staff of more than 3,000, arrange for tickets for all who played a role in the campaign and coordinate with the military for the military escorts and ceremonies.
“I don’t think you sleep. I was running on adrenaline,” Walker said. “I had to see a doctor when it was all over.”
In preparation for Reagan’s second inauguration, Ron and Anne Walker walked the presidential parade route on Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Capitol to the White House. But Reagan wouldn’t walk it that year.
“One week later, I had to go to the president and Mrs. Reagan and cancel the parade. The wind chill factor would have been 12 below. We would probably have killed some kids from California that came with polyester suits,” Walker said.
He wasn’t kidding. He consulted with doctors from Antarctica who said the sub-freezing temperatures could kill a Secret Service agent stationed underground during the event.
The Walkers attended the first inauguration of George W. Bush but skipped the second one to give other party faithful a chance to celebrate.
The couple have known the McCains for years and are good friends with Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne. The Walkers saw the Cheneys two weeks ago in Washington.
“They’re ready to get out of town. . . . They both feel that history will be kind to them and they leave with their heads held high,” Ron Walker said.
Despite their solid GOP credentials, the Walkers are taking the transition to Democratic rule after eight years of a Republican administration with complete sang-froid.
“The Republican party made some huge mistakes,” Walker said. “They shot themselves in the foot and then they reloaded and shot themselves in the foot again. Their time was due.”
Anne Walker said she hopes the country rallies around Obama and supports him in every possible way.
Ron Walker said he’ll have nothing but good feelings for the new president while watching the inauguration.
“I will be sitting in my home here in Tucson, wishing him well and Godspeed and hoping it’s a beautiful day,” he said.
Anne T. Denogean can be reached at 573-4582 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767. Her columns run Tuesdays and Fridays.