Milligan University mourns the death of legendary coach, administrator and professor Duard Walker, who served at Milligan for 50 years from 1951-2001. Walker passed away early on the morning of Aug. 18 at age 95 in Johnson City.
“No one has epitomized more fully the heart of Buff Nation than Coach Duard Walker,” said President Dr. Bill Greer. “He was a man of unshakable character whose competitive spirit and love for Milligan was rivaled only by his commitment to God, country and family. His impact on Milligan is incalculable and he will be missed.”
Raised in Piney Flats, Tennessee, Walker transferred from East Tennessee State University to Milligan College in 1942. At Milligan, he was assigned to the Navy V-12 Officer Training program. Walker served three years in the U.S. Navy during World War II and fought in the battles at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Upon completing his service, he returned to Milligan in 1946 to complete his college education. Walker was an avid student-athlete on campus, receiving 12 varsity letters in five sports and earning the Milligan’s Scholar Athlete Trophy. Walker still holds the school record for the most varsity letters earned by a student-athlete.
Walker also met his wife, Carolyn Roberts, at Milligan, and they married in 1947. Upon graduation in 1948, Walker completed his master’s degree at Columbia University and coached two seasons at Farragut High School. He returned to Milligan in 1951 to teach and coach, marking the start of his 50 years of service. During his career, Walker taught health and physical education; served as the head dorm resident for Pardee Hall and Webb Hall; held the role of dean of men; coached basketball, baseball, tennis, cross country, and track and field; served as athletic director; and held the role of academic marshal. Additionally, he and Carolyn raised their five children on Milligan’s campus.
Walker received numerous awards and recognitions over his career. In 1986, Walker was awarded Milligan’s highest honor, the Fide et Amore, for his distinguished service to the college. In addition, he was an inaugural member of Milligan’s Hall of Fame and was named the 2001 NAIA National Athletic Director. Walker was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 2016, the NAIA Hall of Fame in 2008, the Carter County Hall of Fame and the Northeast Tennessee Hall of Fame. In 2000, the Appalachian Athletic Conference introduced the Duard Walker All-Sports Trophy which recognizes the conference institution with the most successful all-around sports program each year.
“When I think of Coach Walker, two things come to my mind,” said Mark Fox, vice president for student development and athletics. “First, I think of his sense of humor. He had a very dry wit, and he always saw the humor and joy in any situation. Second, Coach always appreciated people for who they were rather than being disappointed in what they were not. I believe that those things are what made Coach so popular with everyone he met.”
Walker’s legacy continues to guide Milligan’s athletics department and impact student-athletes and the entire Milligan community. Upon entering the Steve Lacy Fieldhouse, Walker’s coaching philosophy, “win with dignity, lose with grace,” is etched into the hallway and immediately captures one’s attention.
As news of Walker’s passing spread, coaches who followed in his footsteps at Milligan took to social media and shared the enormous impact he had on their respective careers.
“My heart goes out to his family as they mourn this loss,” said Rich Aubrey, who recently wrapped up a distinguished career as the head coach of the Milligan women’s basketball team. “There is much to celebrate about coach and his legacy. In addition to what he poured into his wonderful family (he and Carolyn just celebrated their 73rd anniversary this weekend), he invested so much in the lives of people like me. He taught me that a real coach is willing to sweep the floor and do the laundry. He taught me that people matter more than wins. He taught me that strength and gentleness can co-exist. Most of all, he modeled what it means for a coach to be a servant-leader.”
“Coach Walker was a legend,” said Mike Morrell, a former Milligan basketball player and current head men’s basketball coach at UNC-Asheville. “On more than one occasion, he took time to send a hand-written note … it was always greatly appreciated. He will be sorely missed by everyone in the Milligan family.”
Walker is survived by his wife of 73 years, five children and their families. Each of his children, Cindy (Walker ’72) Gober, Teresa (Walker ’74) Knox, Duard “Buff” Walker (’79), Gary Walker (’81) and Tracy Walker ’87, graduated from Milligan.