Friends and family remember Montana’s Skip Walters
Beloved husband, father, and radio personality, Skip Walters, passed away on Sunday, May 29, 2022, at the age of 69. His wife Linda Ballew and their son Tyson Ballew were with him as he passed peacefully at Saint Patrick’s Hospital in Missoula, Montana.
Skip was born Walter C. Mallard III in Norfolk, Virginia, on May 31,1952. The son of a Navy man, he was nicknamed “Skipper,” a name everyone would come to know once Skip Walters adapted his name as his on-air radio persona.
The United States Air Force brought Skip to Montana where he served at Malmstrom Air Force Base in the 1970s. Skip often related his reaction to coming into Great Falls from Gore Hill telling the bus driver he had never lived anywhere where a person could see the edge of town. Yet, after his time in the military, he returned to Virginia for only a short time. As much as he loved to travel, Skip had fallen in love with the slower pace and more laid-back lifestyle of Montana. He would mention the old saying, “I wasn’t born here, but I got here as quickly as I could.”
Skip attended the Brown Institute in Minneapolis and a career in radio awakened. His first job was in Miles City. He arrived there the day of the World-Famous Bucking Horse sale and thought, “These people know how to have a Friday night.” Eventually, things quieted down, and he would come to Great Falls to work at several radio stations, returning to 560 KMON where Skip found his calling. This move would turn into a lifelong career in broadcasting that would make him a regular voice and presence in many people’s lives.
People would get to know Skip on air and out in the public as he hosted remote events, announced sports, made certain everyone knew the weather forecast, worked the MAGGIE, hosted Monday night trivia at the Hi Ho Tavern and DJ’d hundreds of wedding receptions.
Skip discovered more of Montana. He loved its people. He understood Montana’s base in agriculture and the small-town communities where he came to know the residents and their unique stories. He listened to them.
Well-read, as reading was his favorite pastime, Skip was worldly and intellectual and quick-witted. There wasn’t much he did not know about history, geography, and politics. He was a go-to news guy because Skip had studied the day’s current events.
Skip took the time to listen to podcasts and to National Public Radio. Its broad perspectives about the world intrigued him. He had learned from his father, “There are always at least two sides to every story, and the truth lies somewhere in between.” Building and airing a “Skip in the ‘60s” show for NPR had been his most current endeavor.
All radio guys are want-to-be musicians, Skip would say, however, Skip knew music. Few people, understood how dearly Skip appreciated Broadway musicals, especially his favorite, “The Sound of Music.” Skip represented an AM country music radio station with fervor and with a love for the music genre and its conversation. Even so, he grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, so he was not a stranger to rock ‘n roll. He held these musicians in esteemed respect: Led Zepplin, REO Speed Wagon, Crosby Stills, Nash and Young, James Taylor and so many more. Our sweet music man was a connoisseur sampling a wealth of musical stylings.
Skip loved every minute of his radio career, but more than that, he loved all the on-air personalities, salespeople, copy writers, engineers and general managers who were a part of his radio family.
Skip met Linda Ballew in the early ‘80s. The date was easily remembered only because it marked the year the Giants won the Super Bowl. They married, settled roots with family and built careers.
Despite having a busy public life, Skip did enjoy the privacy and solitude of home life. An avid reader, Skip was always taking time to enjoy fiction and historical writings. He rarely went anywhere without his I-Pad. Skip had discovered digital check-out from the public library, and yet, he always carried his library card. It was one of his favorite places to be.
He loved watching football on Sundays, a passionate and faithful Vikings fan. He loved going to local baseball games and telling the story of Tommy Lasorda who let him wear his pennant ring at lunch one day on Lasorda’s visit to Great Falls. (Some may remember that the farm team in Great Falls was once home to the Dodgers.) Skip was a lifelong Pirates fan. Loyalty defined Skip’s character.
Faithfully, he took his black lab, Daya, on long walks, multiple times a day. This made them quite the fixture in the community. Skip found Canine Companions to be more than a pastime. It became a focus where he developed lasting and meaningful friendships with the puppy raisers who trained these soon-to-be service dogs.
Daya and Skip had a standing date with Linda’s mom, Lorraine. They would visit usually on Thursdays to talk about recipes as Skip loved to cook. They would discuss world affairs or old times. Going to the City Bar for a beer and lunch was always on their agenda.
Skip was a loving and supportive husband and father. He made lunches, shopped for groceries, and often surprised Linda with her favorite flowers. Supporting Tyson’s interest in arts and music, he drove Tyson to weekly guitar lessons, invested in instruments, and offered words of encouragement. Skip’s playfulness and imaginative personality made him a wonderful father who played games with Tyson as he got him ready for school. When calling to check on him in the morning to make sure Tyson was on his way to the bus, the two developed a brief morning radio bit where Tyson would read a Laffy Taffy joke live on the air as part of a “Joke of a Day” segment. Skip had a remarkable sense of humor. Even still, his favorite jokes were always “dad” jokes.
As a parent Skip never hesitated to make himself available to help any way he could with school, fun activities, and building fond childhood memories. He truly loved and admired Tyson and Troy, proudly speaking of their accomplishments and the fine family men they have become. Being a grandfather of six grandchildren amused him and made him fiercely protective.
Skip believed in Linda often telling her how proud he was of her because her work in education was so critically important. For over 40 years, he not only did his job and kept the household running, but he brought her life to school. He often helped fundraise at football and basketball concessions. He made late night layout dinners for her publication students. He helped chaperone Great Falls High students at many student journalism conventions. Skip would make sure the students safely learned about the cities by taking them to see live music at rock clubs or stadium shows. They went to zoos, and Skip was always up for an amusement park. He helped students discover the rich history found in museums or to see their first professional sports games. Significantly, Skip gave many of these students their first-time jobs in media. For these Montana students, Skip helped to build foundational, cherished lifelong memories.
Skip Walters had discovered home in the Montana pace of life as well as in its community. Whether in the mountains of Western Montana or the plains of Eastern Montana, Skip intuitively knew the state’s grandeur. He once said that the sage and expanse of the plains reminded him of the ocean. He found peace in this as he loved the ocean. Even so, the spectacular mountains, lakes, rivers, wildlife, and people of Montana captivated his heart. It was truly his Last, Best Place.
Celebration of Life will be held for family and friends on August 21, 2022.
Donations in Skip’s memory can be made to the following:
Big Sky Canine Companions: https://canine.org/PawsforSkip