DURHAM, N.C. — LeRoy Walker was remembered Tuesday for embodying the ideals of the Olympics and for his passion for excellence as a coach, administrator and college chancellor.
Hundreds gathered at Duke University for the funeral for the first African-American to lead the US Olympic Committee and to coach an American men’s team at the games.
Former USOC leader Bill Hybl called Walker “a one-man diplomatic commission” who “truly shared the Olympic dream.” U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., read a message of condolence from President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
Walker died last week at 93. No cause of death was given. He coached the US men’s track and field team at the Montreal Games in 1976 and led the USOC from 1992-96, shepherding the Atlanta Games and presiding over the group when the 2002 Winter Games were awarded to Salt Lake City.
“I thought he’d be here forever, really,” said George Williams, who coached the US men’s track team in Athens in 2004. “Everything we do is Dr. Walker. Every championship we win is Dr. Walker’s championship. … He changed the atmosphere of coaching. … You don’t usually see doctors coaching anything.”
The Atlanta Games were panned across the globe, and Walker warned his countrymen the US was not likely to play host to another games for a long time after Salt Lake City.
Walker coached Olympic teams from Ethiopia, Israel, Jamaica, Kenya and Trinidad & Tobago before his home country gave him a chance to be the first black Olympic head coach when he led the Americans to Montreal. His team claimed 22 medals, including gold in the long jump, discus, decathlon, 400-meter
hurdles and both men’s relays.
“He had a passion for excellence,” North Carolina Central Chancellor Charlie Nelms said. “Anything less was unacceptable.”
Walker coached football and men’s basketball at N.C. Central before starting a track program at the school that under his guidance produced 40 national champions and 12 Olympians. He served N.C. Central in a variety of roles before taking over as chancellor from 1983-86.
Virginia Tech assistant Charles Foster, a former N.C. Central star and hurdler on the Walker-coached 1976 Olympic team, called himself “one of LeRoy’s boys” and remembered an episode when Walker recruited him.
“He said that he was going places, and he said, ‘If you want to go with me, sign this dotted line and then grab on to these coattails and see how far they can take us,’” Foster said.