The beloved software entrepreneur, philanthropist and outdoorsman was found dead Friday morning on Granite Mountain after an all-night search.
Douglas W. Walker’s footprints are all over the mountains of Washington, where he preferred to roam.
A frequent climber, Mr. Walker left even bigger footprints on the state of philanthropy and conservation, using the fortune he earned as software entrepreneur to usher in a new era of charitable giving and to open and preserve access to outdoor recreation for people from all walks of life.
The beloved outdoorsman was found dead Friday morning on Granite Mountain after an all-night search. He had been snowshoeing and hiking with friends Thursday when the wind picked up. His companions decided to turn back and wait for Mr. Walker, who continued climbing a route that friends said he had traversed at least 200 times. He was likely caught in an avalanche, according to the King County Sheriff’s Office. He was 65.
Mr. Walker, who lived in The Highlands, in Shoreline, was “a climber’s climber,’’ said Martha Kongsgaard, chair of the leadership council of Puget Sound Partnership.
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“He lived to share the joy of the high alpine with anyone, from his climbing partner, daughter Kina, to the unsuspecting junior-development director of the boards he served on, to the inner-city youth who were, thanks to Doug’s persistent efforts, able to experience the great gifts of the wilderness his beloved ‘wild nearby’ had to offer.”
Mr. Walker’s death drew expressions of sorrow from politicians at the local and state level and nonprofits on whose boards he served.
Mr. Walker was born Aug. 17, 1950, in the Piedmont region of South Carolina, one of three boys from an old Southern family, said Maggie Walker, his wife of 43 years.
Mr. Walker’s Southern sensibility was later evident in his easy manner and the humble way in which he moved through the world, quietly building networks of people with shared passions, friends said. He preferred hiking pants and T-shirts to suits and drove a Subaru Outback for most of his adult life.
Even at an early age, Mr. Walker embraced adventure. He spent summers climbing mountains in South Carolina, and, at 14, became a U.S. Senate page, attending school in the attic of the Library of Congress for about 18 months just as President Johnson was launching his Great Society initiatives to eliminate poverty and racial injustice.
“It was an eye-popping experience,’’ said Maggie Walker, a New Jersey native who met Mr. Walker when they were students at Vanderbilt University. After graduation, the couple married, packed their car and headed to Seattle for graduate school at the University of Washington. It was the first time either of them had crossed west of the Mississippi.
“This place was a revelation,’’ she said. “It’s so incredibly beautiful and open in an interesting and quirky way.”
The local economy was depressed at the time, but living was cheap, the population was well-educated and you could feel the city’s promise, she said. People experimented and took risks, knowing that if they failed they could try something new.
Mr. Walker thrived in the culture. After studying math in graduate school, he joined Western Data Corp. and, in 1981, co-founded Walker, Richter and Quinn (WRQ), a software firm that provided a bridge between personal computers and mainframes, helping companies form and integrate computer systems for the first time.
The couple had a daughter and put down deeper roots.
Mr. Walker’s business was hugely successful, a fact he attributed to good fortune, his wife said.
He believed that “when good things happen to you, you have to pay it forward and not assume that it’s all because of you. It’s because of a place and a community that you benefited from, and have to help preserve so that other people can benefit from it, too.”
That ethos guided the couple as they quietly joined with other entrepreneurs to forge a new direction for local philanthropy, making it as much about giving time and talent as money. Their organization, Social Venture Partners, has become a multiplier force supporting the common good.
The list of organizations to which Mr. Walker gave his time and talent, often serving as a board member or board chairman, are a testament to his energy and commitment: The Wilderness Society. Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Seattle Parks Foundation. Institute for Systems Biology. Conservation Lands Foundation. American Alpine Club. Forterra. UW College of the Environment. The Sierra Club Foundation.
Paul Shoemaker, Social Venture’s first executive director, said Mr. Walker “believed that philanthropy shouldn’t be a solo endeavor. It should be something you do collectively. There was quite a bit of hubris attached to (philanthropy) at the time (that SVP was founded). He was genuinely humble. I don’t think he would have let them name a building after him.”
Although Mr. Walker’s success made him wealthy, he was defined by his passions, not his wallet, said Shoemaker. He built powerful networks of people by sharing his enthusiasm for the things he loved. Top among them: the outdoors.
“He was 64 years old, climbing to the top of a mountain,’’ Shoemaker said. “That’s not symbolic, that’s literal.”
Granite Mountain, with its tough rock scramble and views into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, was a favorite climb, said U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
When Mr. Walker climbed, he talked constantly, Jewell said, peppering her with riddles and brain teasers, from Civil War history to Shakespeare trivia and mathematical puzzles.
He took countless people up into the mountains for the first time, Jewell said, and was with her the first time she climbed Mount Rainier with her son.
Mr. Walker had turned back on other climbs when conditions felt unsafe, she said.
Mr. Walker, a friend since the two started out on the board at REI in 1996, “was a champion of access to the outdoors for all people,” Jewell said. He gathered with senior staff at the White House just two weeks ago to discuss private philanthropic support for government programs to boost access for all kids to the outdoors, she said.
He also helped launch and fund the BOLD & GOLD summer outdoor-expedition programs through the YMCA to get city kids from all kinds of backgrounds and communities into the outdoors.
Many people cried recalling Mr. Walker’s generosity in things small and large.
“He was one of the best mentors I’ve ever had,’’ said Martinique Grigg, who spoke frequently with Mr. Walker when, in her late 20s, she became the executive director of The Mountaineersorganization in Seattle. “He introduced himself to me and followed up with emails, phone calls, invitations to roundtables or coffee with someone who could help The Mountaineers connect people to the outdoors.”
He had an uncanny ability to know exactly when to step in and offer help, she said.
“It was that perfectly placed phone call just when you needed it,’’ she said. “He’d say, ‘I heard … dah, dah, dah,’ whatever it was. And I’d say, ‘How’d you know that? It only happened two hours ago!’ ”
Kongsgaard, of the Puget Sound Partnership, said the region has lost “a great civic leader, conservationist and philanthropist who had a passion for the outdoors and instilled that same passion in others.”
“He was a transplant whose sense of place, of this specific place, was profound, and his protection of same knew no fiercer advocate,” Kongsgaard said. “I can hear him say in his Southern drawl, both as a standard hello and goodbye, ‘Let’s go climbin’ sometime.’ ”
In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Walker is survived by his brothers, John and Herman Walker, of Greenville, S.C.
Information in this article, originally published Jan. 1, 2016, was corrected Jan. 2, 2016. A previous version of this story gave an incorrect age for Douglas Walker. He was 65.