You might recall that in 2013, I wrote this article about Leigh Ann Walker, whose dad Verlon “Rube” Walker was a Cubs coach from 1961-70. He died of leukemia in 1971, just before the season started, a year in which he would have realized his dream of becoming Cubs pitching coach.
Leigh Ann was just three years old when her dad died, so she had no real memories of him nor any recollection of his voice. The article was about her quest to find a recording of Verlon Walker’s voice.
Two years later, that quest was realized. (Sadly, the video linked in my 2015 article is no longer available. It told the story very well.)
But in going on that journey, Leigh Ann found out so much more about her dad, and about herself. It’s all lovingly chronicled in “Finding My Father’s Voice.”
As part of her quest, Leigh Ann spoke to many Cubs who had played for or coached with her dad: Fergie Jenkins, Don Kessinger, Ken Holtzman, Phil Regan and Joey Amalfitano are just some of the men who responded to her emails and phone calls. To a man, they remembered Verlon Walker as a kind man of integrity who always tried to lighten up the atmosphere in the Cubs clubhouse with humor.
Former big-league catcher Terry Kennedy, son of then-Cubs “head coach” Bob Kennedy, wrote to Leigh Ann:
I remember your father well even though I was only 8 years old. You don’t forget someone that nice. My father was a good judge of character and he loved your dad.
I remember when I would go on the field in my own little flannel Chicago Cubs uniform and play catch with whoever was out there. I threw a few with your dad. Now my father is gone, too. It doesn’t matter what age you are, there is always loss (I was 49 when he passed).
It’s that loss that Leigh Ann chronicles in her book. Even though her mom remarried and she had a stepfather who was kind to her, she always felt the loss of not having a dad around, and this affected her life in various ways, including bouts of depression. The quest to find Verlon Walker’s voice took paths that she had never considered, and in learning about him, she learned much about herself.
I was happy to play a small part in getting Leigh Ann’s story out there. As I have mentioned here a couple of times, I too lost a parent when I was still a child. It’s something that reverberates through my life to this day, and so I well understood Leigh Ann’s quest. She’s fortunate that there were still many people around who remembered her father and shared wonderful stories about him.
I met Leigh Ann Walker when she came to Wrigley Field in 2015, after she had found her father’s voice, and wanted to thank people who had helped her, including Pat Hughes and the people at the Rube Walker Blood Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, named after her dad, a place that’s helped many people over the years. She gave me a brief shout-out in the book and noted that I had invited her, next time she’s in town, to share a game in the bleachers. She wrote, “I don’t know about that, seems pretty crazy out there.”
It can be, but it can also be a great experience, and she’s assured me she’ll do that next time she’s at Wrigley.
This book has a lot of Cubs baseball in it (including a lot of great old photos of the 1960s era Cubs), but it’s also a tale of loss and redemption, and that’s a fine story for anyone to read. It made me cry, partly because I have personally felt the same emotions she has, but also because the story has a happy ending. Highly recommended.