FAIRFIELD, Maine — Family and friends of Jay Walker Jr. are mourning the loss of a man known far and wide for a lot more than his good pizza.
Walker, who died Sunday at age 72, ran Sonny’s Pizza on Main Street in Fairfield for decades. His business was and is a fixture for family Friday nights and its dining area typifies the meaning of “local hangout,” especially for young people.
But Walker was more than a pizza slinger. With a quiet, humble resolve that blanketed most of 40 years, his commitment to improving the lives of young people is legendary. Sponsoring local sports teams and writing a check for just about any school group that came through his door was only part of it. He attended hundreds, maybe thousands, of youth contests as a fan, a father, a coach and for some 30 years, operator of the down-and-distance chains at Lawrence High School football games.
“He cared deeply about kids,” said Scott Walker of his father. “He knew the value of keeping kids involved. Everybody talks about it now, but my dad knew that 35 or 40 years ago.”
Harold Bickford of Fairfield met Jay Walker 40 years ago during a softball game. Bickford was playing third base, and he barely noticed someone park his car along the first-base line and walk toward the dugout. On the next play, Bickford’s throw to first went high and wide.
“I spider-webbed Jay’s front windshield,” said Bickford. “I asked the shortstop who that was and he said that’s Jay Walker, our new sponsor.” But Walker wasn’t angry or upset.
“It was like it was no big deal,” said Bickford, a local builder who has done numerous projects for Walker over the years and cultivated a friendship along the way. “I’ve never actually seen him angry.”
At the center of Walker’s support for youth programs was his 30-year commitment to Fairfield’s Police Athletic League, which is a cross between a booster club and recreation department that supports numerous sports programs. Richard McGee of Fairfield was among the members who lured Walker to the board of directors. Walker rarely missed a meeting, right up until the most recent one two weeks ago.
Walker was a “true leader” on the board and his input on whatever issue was at hand was valued by all, said McGee.
“He always showed wisdom in his judgment,” he said. “I visited him many times over the years to ask about his opinion on something. Everyone’s going to miss him in this town.”
Frank Bouchard, who owns an accounting business down the street from Sonny’s Pizza, has known Walker since Bouchard was a child. He also noticed Walker’s potent “common sense” and commitment to kids of all ages.
Whatever his mindset was in the past, in recent years Walker’s focus has been on his grandchildren, said Scott Walker, who lives in Bath. His father drove from Fairfield to Bath nearly every day to greet his grandchildren off the school bus.
“He didn’t have to do that … but it’s what he wanted to do,” said Walker. “That’s just the way he was. He was ultimately proud of them.”
Despite all the donations and hours spent devoted to various causes, Walker’s friends said he always wanted to do more. Bickford compared Walker to one of Maine’s most well-known sports benefactors.
“He didn’t have the money of a Harold Alfond, but he had the heart of a Harold Alfond,” said Bickford.
Asked what his father would’ve done with a billion dollars, Scott Walker chuckled.
“He always said that if he had enough money, he’d build an indoor sports complex right off the highway,” said Walker. “I don’t think he would’ve given more time because I don’t think he had any more time to give.”