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.