Bill Walker, titan of Oregon technology industry, dies at 90
Behind Bill Walker's "aw shucks" Missouri demeanor was a "tough-minded" managing engineer, wrote Marshall Lee in his book on the history of Beaverton company Tektronix.
The former Tektronix chief executive officer died Sunday, Sept. 5, at 90 years old.
Walker spent more than 40 years at Tektronix, from a bench job in manufacturing in 1958 all the way to the top, according to his daughter, Janis Walker Gilmore.
The sixth of nine children, Walker was born in a cabin on a rocky farm near Mountain View, Missouri, in the Ozark Mountains. He attended school at a one-room schoolhouse until the eighth grade.
After graduating high school in 1947, Walker worked a variety of odd jobs before attending classes at what is today Missouri State University. He returned to a rural one-room schoolhouse, this time as a teacher, before joining the U.S. Air Force.
Walker scored well on his entrance exam and chose "radar" as his speciality, not knowing what it actually meant. This choice would map out the rest of his career.
He told The Oregonian in 1981 that he had already made up his mind about joining Tektronix while he was serving in the Air Force, after he encountered his first Tektronix scope at an airbase in Mississippi.
"They'd just brought in 12 of these new machines, and they were just so superior to anything else we'd seen, they were almost pretty. I never forgot it," he told The Oregonian.
Walker graduated from Rolla School of Mines (now Missouri University of Science and Technology) with a degree in electrical engineering in 1958, and he worked at Boeing in Seattle before moving on to Tektronix, where he quickly rose to success.
At the time, Tektronix was a major force behind Beaverton's rapid postwar growth. The company began in 1946 in Southeast Portland, but it moved to Beaverton in 1956 and was Oregon's largest employer within two decades, according to the Portland Business Journal.
In his book, Lee described Walker as "a force to be reckoned with."
"He was committed to quality products, but he was also committed to centralized engineering for Tektronix," Lee wrote.
While at Tektronix, Walker told The Oregonian that there were similarities between managing the company and his old teaching job.
"Managing has a large element of teaching associated with it, as well as a large level of learning," he said. "Teaching, persuading people is important to the task of managing."
In 1984, Walker left Tektronix to become CEO of another major Oregon tech company, Electro Scientific Industries. He ran the business for three years. He returned to Tektronix in 1990 to serve as interim president.
Walker took on many different positions throughout his career, including director at Planar Systems, director at Gilmore Entertainment, trustee at Oregon Graduate Center, trustee at Golden Gate Seminary, trustee at Southern Baptist Brotherhood Commission, advisor at National Science Foundation, and advisor at Oregon Higher Education Foundation.
Walker was an avid traveler, but his happiest travel times were spent at the old farmhouse where he was born, according to his family.
Walker is survived by his two children, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. His family plans to hold a funeral service at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 25, at Parkside Fellowship in Beaverton.
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