DENHAM SPRINGS — Regina Walker learned to fly a plane before she drove a car, loved sharing her knowledge of music with others and was at home in a fishing boat.
The legendary musician, and woman of many and diverse talents, passed away at the age of 91 earlier this month, leaving memories of her long, well-lived life to her family members and the many others whose lives she touched through her involvement in the community.
Regina Walker, the wife of the late Dr. Edwin Walker, a highly respected member of the community because of his 65 years of practicing medicine in Denham Springs, touched the lives of countless young people in Livingston Parish and throughout the area through her involvement with choirs and her distinguished career as a piano teacher. She was a woman of many talents who left behind an indelible imprint on her children and the many she influenced throughout her long life.
One of her daughters, Barbara Walker, said her mother "was a multifaceted woman of many talents, especially in the field of music. She was a tremendous piano teacher, she could compose music, she was a much loved choir director, a playwright, and so many other things. She had a tremendous sense of humor and was just hilarious. … She could make everyone laugh when she would recall stories of her experiences during her long and eventful life.”
Daughter Dinah Toups said her mother demonstrated at an early age a sense of adventure and determination to do things her own way. “Mama was enrolled at Denham Springs High School, and the school required her to take home economics. She didn’t want to take the course, so she dropped out of Denham Springs High at age 16, got a GED from Baton Rouge High, and enrolled at Louisiana State University … all at the age of 16. She graduated from LSU with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in piano performance.”
For the remainder of her life, Regina Walker used her music education to bring music to the community in different forms. Toups tells the following story about her mother. “Mama began teaching choir at Beauregard Junior High, and when she realized that the choir did not have any boys among its numbers, she went over to the boy’s gym and asked the coach if she could talk to the boys about being in her choir. The coach thought that was pretty funny, but was impressed that she had the nerve to ask. She challenged each boy who took the dare to a game ... and said if she could make more layups than they, they would agree to be in her choir for one semester. She got 16 boys to join the choir that day, and most of them stayed in the choir beyond the one semester.”
This was the beginning of Regina Walker’s involvement with choirs. At the urging of her daughter Barbara, she co-founded the Livingston Parish Children’s Choirs, where she trained countless singers and musicians to the benefit of choirs and congregations in Livingston Parish and beyond. Barbara Walker said that over the years, choir students have performed both across the country and abroad and even sang for former President George W. Bush and two Louisiana governors.
Before establishing choir, Regina directed the Denham Springs boys choir in the 1960s and taught choral music at Central High School from 1976-61. At Central High, her choirs consistently received superior ratings at district and state choral competitions.
Barbara Walker said her mother was a highly respected piano teacher for 30 years, adding that “many of the piano teachers today were taught by my mother.” Besides piano, she taught voice lessons.
Her musical talents extended beyond the choir and piano performances and teaching. Dinah Toups said her mother would write, direct and star in the Livingston Parish Children’s Choirs annual dinner theater productions. “She would play various parts in these productions, and at one time or another she was the Keyboard Kid, a cowboy, would do comic skits, and once did a parody on General Patton. She enjoyed so many things … especially if they involved music and theater. Through her music and theatrical talents she brought joy to many others.”
Regina Walker was more than a musician. She learned how to fly at an early age and had her pilot’s license at age 16, before she had a driver’s license. She very much enjoyed athletics and played golf, fished, played baseball, rode horses, played racquetball and was a ballroom dancer. “She started playing sports at an early age. She once told us that as a little girls she had the only football in the neighborhood, and she would only let the boys play with it if they would also let her play,” Dinah Toups recalled.
Barbara Walker related that her mother enjoyed golf all her life and was scheduled to play in a golf tournament at False River on April 1 but was hospitalized on March 30. When her doctor told her she would need to go to the hospital because they suspected she had pneumonia, the first thing she asked the doctor was if she would still get to play in the tournament on the next Thursday.
Barbara Walker said of her mother, “She was a very determined lady. She never met a wall that she could not either climb over or burst through. She did whatever she wanted to do and in the process she lived a full and rewarding life. She loved the community, and the community loved her back. She was an inspiration to everyone and especially to me. She wasn’t just my mother, she was my partner for 30 years as we worked together with the children’s choirs. What a rewarding experience that was."
Regina Walker was lauded and presented with awards for her many contributions in the field of music and education. In 1997 Regina Walker was awarded the Distinguished Contributions to Music Education Award by the LSU School of Music Alumni Association. She was nominated by the Arts Council of Greater Denham Springs for the Governor’s Arts Award in 2000 for Achievement in the Arts and was selected to be listed in the Arts Council of Greater Denham Springs’ Hall of Fame.
Walker was selected as the 2007 Baton Rouge Music Teachers Association’s Outstanding Educator of the Year for her lifetime contributions to music in Louisiana. She was a past president of the Baton Rouge Music Teachers Association. Regina co-authored the Piano Teacher Certification Plan for Louisiana and co-authored the first LMTA Piano Rally Handbook. In March 2015, she was honored by MTNA at their national convention in Las Vegas as an MTNA Foundation Fellow. Only 37 music teachers from across the nation were selected for this honor. She was also awarded the Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce’s first annual Women’s Leadership Award. “Our mother was a tireless promoter of the LPCC,” Barbara Walker said.
Her daughters said their mother would often relate exceptional experiences in her life, and one thing that Regina Walker especially remembered when conversing with others was that she was in the State Capitol the day that then Gov. Huey Long was shot. Her school class was on a field trip at the Capitol that day.
Funeral services for Regina Walker were held on Saturday, April 10, at the First Baptist Church in Denham Springs. She is survived by four daughters, Deborah Tyler, Terrilee Haley, Barbara Walker and Toups, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
In addition to family members, many friends and former choir members were in attendance for her farewell ceremony. Fittingly, the Livingston Parish Children’s Choirs sang a number of songs. The congregation joined in singing a medley of her favorite spiritual songs. Many tributes were offered in memory of this remarkable woman who had lived such a long, productive and influential life.
Among those offering tribute was her grandson Joshua Toups, who wrote the following: “Legacy … when a person as influential, dynamic and compassionate as Regina Walker passes away, ‘legacy’ is the only word that could possibly encapsulate the grandness of what that person has done… She had an ability to cull greatness from someone who didn’t even know they had it inside of them. … It was impossible to feel average around her because she made it very clear that your best was a process that involved hard work, dedication and not just sitting there fat, dumb and happy. So, as you remember Regina Walker today, remember why she was so impactful. It wasn’t what she did, and she did many great things, but what she brought out of people and furthermore what those people brought out of others.”
In conclusion, Joshua Toups said his grandmother was part of the entire community’s legacy because of the contributions that she made to so many others during her long and fruitful life.