Walton Amey — a multi-talented musician and athlete, and a 1971 Staples High School graduate — died suddenly on Sunday. He was 69.
His longtime friend, Grammy-winning musician and producer Brian Keane, writes:
Some friends in life are so close, for so long, that they become part of your own history. Walton Amey is such a friend for me.
He was a top athlete, captain of the Coleytown Junior High football team where we played together, a talented singer in the elite Staples Orphenians (we sang together in a church choir too).
We made mischief together, partied together, played in the same rock ‘n’ roll band, and served on community projects together. Walton was also a theatrical star in Staples Players.
After high school, Walt attended college in Ithaca, New York with me, David Barton and Linda Satin (all from our Staples class). Walt and I were roommates as freshmen.
In Ithaca he and I played music professionally in coffeehouses and bars with our good friend Stephen Schneider. We were joined by our high school band drummer David Barton. We wrote and recorded some memorable original songs together. Walton was an engaging entertainer, and the life of any party.
After Stephen, David and I left in 1975 Walt brought in the guitarist from our high school band, Jeff Dowd, and had a very popular band called Desperado. They made several records together, before Jeff left to begin an opera career in Germany.
Walt continued playing music around upstate New York. He taught ballroom dancing at Cornell, developed a fondness for tennis, and lived a reclusive life in rural upstate New York for a time.
In 1993 one of our musicians threw a surprise 40th birthday party for former dormmates and band members in New York City. That morphed into an annual event, then into a yearly weekend gathering on Fire Island.
It was a Big Chill weekend: no spouses. We became like another family to each other over the years. Walton and Elizabeth Schenck started a wonderful relationship 14 years ago. They lived together in Syracuse, where Elizabeth practices as a public defender attorney.
I saw Walt and Elizabeth every year at the Fire Island reunions. Starting in 2020, my partner Bonnie (who was in theatrical productions with Walton at Staples) and I started meeting Walt, Elizabeth and a few others on 4th of July weekends.
We gathered once again this year. We played games on the beach, watched fireworks, had great dinners, drank, played guitars and sang songs we had written, songs of our youth, and all kinds of fun songs in between.
We told jokes, shared stories, and had a wonderful time. Walton, Stephen and I watched Wimbledon past midnight, after everyone else went to bed. Walton made us sing 3-part harmonies to some Crosby, Stills & Nash tunes, which we obliged him to get him to go to bed. Walton was in his bliss.
Some time after we went to bed at 1 a.m., Walton got back up. We don’t know what happened, but he was discovered at the bottom of the stairs at 2:15.
EMS arrived 10 strong right away, and worked on him from 2:30, even getting a pulse back. But he lost that pulse on the way to the hospital.
The night before, we watched a spectacular sunset from the deck of the beach house. I had remarked how lucky we were to be alive to witness this. Walt agreed, and expressed his gratitude too.
When we got confirmation that Walton had died, we knew we had lost an important part of our own lives. Our life histories had been so intertwined. We spent the rest of the day in a combination of shock, grief, and “producer mode” dealing with things.
On the morning of July 4th, we gave Walton the tribute he had told Elizabeth he wanted: a New Orleans-style funeral procession. Stephen and I led the way to the ferry. We played “When the Saints Go Marching In” on ukuleles. The rest of our group sang along, walking in the sand with umbrellas.
At first it was hard to keep from choking up. Then it transformed into something more joyful. A couple of people looked at us oddly, but we kept going. We all felt better by the time we got to the ferry. The crowd there appreciated it, too.
Walton couldn’t have asked for a better death than having spent the weekend doing exactly what he loved, with people he loved, and who loved him, in one of his favorite places on earth — then having it all end unexpectedly, and rather instantly as far as I can tell.
Though many of us will feel pain, and the loss of Walton in our lives, we grieve for that which has been our heart’s delight. Walt made us all rich in life experience, for simply sharing part of this glorious ride called life with him. He was part of what made our lives fun. Personal grief is mixed with a deep sense of gratitude for that.
Walt is survived by his sister Meg Amey Smith of Des Moines, Iowa; his significant other, Elizabeth Schenck of Syracuse, New York, and the many of us who loved him and became like family with him.
No services have been determined at this time.
I am so very sorry for your loss. But what an extraordinary tribute to your dear friend! He is surely smiling in Heaven!
What a beautiful tribute. You really painted a picture of Walton that allowed us all to know him. He sounds like one of the main reasons my husband & I (musicians) moved to Westport 33 years ago. To be with creative beautiful spirits such as he was. So sorry for your great loss.
Brian, what a wonderful tribute to Walt. In the “Staplelite 71′ ” yearbook there is a picture of him as the head coach of the Senior Girls Powder Puff team.
That picture says it all. Rest in peace my friend.
I am so very saddened by the loss of Walt Amey. I have thought of him so often, but hadn’t seen him in many, many years. My deepest condolences to his best buddies, family, and Elizabeth. My memories are of many nights of mischief on and off the Staples HS theatre stage. I don’t think anyone could have asked for a more wonderful last day than the one he spent with Brian and his friends. Thank you for your tender memorial of his life with his band and friends.
Very saddened to learn of Walt’s passing. He was a very dear friend growing up and I have so many fond memories of friendship, athletic competition, goofing around, and just being kids the only way we knew how. Thank you Brian for the tribute to Walt. He will always be in my memory and heart
As part of the Silverbrook group of kids who went to Coleytown El (which included Alan and Walt), I second Alan’s emotions.
BK- Really warm and moving tribute to your pal Walton. I am sorry for your loss; he was clearly an amazing soul.Thank you for this tribute to him.
What an amazing tribute to a man who seemed to embrace life. In reality, you are right – the end of his journey here couldn’t have been more joyful. How lucky for him and for all who loved him.
Oh no, no, no….I am heartbroken at the loss of beautiful, talented Walt. Brian, this is a precious tribute to your dear friend. He seemed to be everywhere in high school, and a master of everything! I recall his leadership as our choir president senior year. I can still see him in my mind in our Music Man production. I am so glad he was in his favorite place, with his favorite people, doing what he so loved. Let’s all go to our reunions!!!! We must love each other and share memories while we still can 💜.
Rest in Peace Walt. Grateful for this Brian and thanks Dan, for getting it out.
Thank you for all of this detailed information. I was blessed to play on the court with Walt for his last tennis match. We were also fellow musicians who had planned on getting together when he got back from Fire Island. Elizabeth called me (from Walt’s phone) and you can imagine the shock I felt at the news. Everyone here in Syracuse who is a part of this tennis community is grieving. He is such a wonderful, loving, cheerful human being
Wow what a colorful life he lead! Thanks for this, I never met him/knew him but always touching when we read of someone who Really Lived a Full Life!!! God Bless
Well, I guess we’re getting to that age. Although I was friendly with but not close to Walt I remember him well from Choir, Boys Glee and Orphenians. There was so much talent in his class one year behind mine and like the others I used to take it for granted. A rich full life lived with great friends!!!
Brian, what a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing and conveying the power of this group relationship.
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well i, and the ithaca contingent, are totally bummed. we were just in the process of remixing the first desperado Lp from the original tapes for the 50th anniversary re-issue.