Morgan Cooper Walker, 81, trans-Atlantic adventurer


Morgan Cooper Walker, a Baltimore businessman whose appetite for adventure led to his participation in a race commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first nonstop trans-Atlantic flight, died Wednesday of heart failure at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The Ruxton resident was 81.

The first nonstop trans-Atlantic flight was in 1919, when two British airmen, Sir Arthur Brown and Sir John Alcock, flew their Vickers-Vimy biplane 1,960 miles, taking off from St. Johns, Newfoundland, and landing in a peat bog in Clifden, in County Galway, Ireland, 16 hours and 12 minutes later.

Mr. Walker, an Army Air Corps ferry pilot during the early days of World War II, decided on a lark to enter the 1969 race sponsored by the London Daily Mail, along with his business partner, Ogden Gorman. Mr. Walker was determined to compete in style and at his own pace.

"We decided to go for it. Ogden for the fastest elapsed time by commercial aircraft and I for a typically British category, 'the meritorious nonwinner,' " Mr. Walker wrote in an article in the Sun Magazine.

To achieve a historically accurate and suitable 1919 look, he cultivated mutton-chop side whiskers and a mustache, packed his great-grandfather's carpet bag with six paper dickeys and collars and his cherry cane, and sported a greatcoat with cape and a vintage motoring duster.

On the morning of May 4, 1969, Mr. Walker went to the Empire State Building, where the time cards were punched and the race officially began.

"The checkout point on the observation deck of the Empire State Building was bedlam," Mr. Walker wrote of the start of the race.

"For all but me, it was the time clock, mad corridor-running, elevator-button punching, motorbikes, helicopters, race cars, you name it. One hapless fellow lost his balance, skidded hard into the elevator cab ribs first and punched the down button while lying flat on his back."

During his leisurely journey, Mr. Walker traveled in a 1919 Stutz Bearcat, a Rolls Royce, an Irish International Airlines jet, a 1910 Adler, a hot-air balloon, a bicycle and a rowboat before reaching the end of the race on the steps of the Government Post Office Building in London.

After 144 hours and 51 minutes, Mr. Walker, a modern-day Phineas Fogg, arrived at London's post office in time for tea, a full day behind the next-slowest loser.

"For a while, I thought I might have figured in 'the most meritorious nonwinner category.' It was like being on death's row waiting for the chaplain's measured tread. The award was 5,000 pounds. Well, I didn't win," he wrote.

He was described by John West, a friend for 60 years, as a "free spirit."

"He certainly got a lot of fun out of life," Mr. West said.

One day Mr. West told his friend, "I'm going to put on your tombstone the famous quote from Somerset Maugham: 'He found in the world more to smile at than to weep.' "

Mr. Walker was born in Baltimore and raised in Govans. He was a 1933 Gilman School graduate and received a bachelor's degree from Yale University in 1937. He took flying lessons at the old Curtiss-Wright flying field on Smith Avenue during the late 1930s.

After teaching English for two years at the Hotchkiss School and reporting for The Sun, Mr. Walker enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a pilot in the Air Transport Command in 1942. He was discharged as a major in 1946, then flew planes for the State Department, delivering supplies to Europe from 1947 to 1948.

He was a real estate developer from 1948 to 1960, when he started Walker-Wilson Travel Agency, whose slogan was, "To avoid the cost of a return ticket, go 'round the world." He was president of the agency until he retired and sold the business last year.

He was a former president of the Gilman Alumni Association and a trustee of the school. He was instrumental establishing the Gilman Fund, predecessor of the school's Annual Fund.

He was also a member of the Elkridge Club and the Jupiter Island Club in Hobe Sound, Fla.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete.

He is survived by his wife of 54 years, the former Anne Harrison; a daughter, Martha Rinker of Ruxton; and numerous nieces and nephews.

Pub Date: 5/31/97

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