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INTUITION BUILT A COMPANY, A FAMILY, A HOME

Ruth Walker was always right, and her Ford-dealership husband and family knew it.

It didn't take long for Ruth Walker to pick a bad egg out of the bunch.

It was a fine skill she developed. She had an eye for character and could tell pretty quickly if someone was dishonest or had dubious motives.

Mrs. Walker took most of her husband's new hires out to lunch. He relied on her assessment, even though he didn't always understand it.

"So," he'd ask when she came home, "what did you think?"

"I don't like him."

"You don't know what you're talking about."

Mrs. Walker would smile.

"You'll see."

She was always right.

- - -

Mrs. Walker, president of Clearwater's long established Walker Ford family auto dealership, died Thursday after battling several ailments. She was 81.

In her 20s, she lived in Tampa and worked as a hostess in an upscale dining room at the Floridian Hotel. She was vivacious and charismatic, and men made passes at her all the time. Usually, she didn't give them the time of day.

One day, a traveling Ford employee named Estill B. Walker stayed at the hotel. They made a connection.

Right away, she knew he was different.

They married, and in 1957, opened Walker Ford's first location on Treasure Island. Mr. Walker came home at the end of long days and told his wife details of the day - things high level employees didn't always hear. He valued her no-nonsense opinion and good sense. When he died in 1993, she took full ownership of the business.

"She was as strong as he was," said her son, Frank Walker, 62. "She was very outgoing, very sure about herself, a very strong-willed person."

At home, she raised her children with high standards. She didn't tolerate laziness or lying. Once, when her son broke curfew, she locked him out. He slept in his car.

"It hurt her more than it hurt me," said Frank Walker. "I was never late again."

She loved animals, especially big dogs like Dobermans. Once, after reading a newspaper article about mistreated puppies, she immediately called to adopt one. She made huge donations to the SPCA.

Mrs. Walker, who eventually moved to Largo, wasn't one to sit around bored. She kept up with the business as she aged, visiting her sons for lunch to stay apprised and give her two cents.

She had a housekeeper and a grounds keeper, but she was typically seen right alongside them, cleaning things or trimming branches off trees. She liked to have her hand in the process.

She just knew what felt right.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

Biography

Ruth Walker

Born: Aug. 9, 1927.

Died: Oct. 23, 2008.

Survivors: sons, Frank and Gary Walker; grandchildren, Miracole Walker Burns, Weston and Ryan Walker; daughters-in-law, Karen and Carole Walker. Predeceased by son, Clyde Walker; husband, Estill B. Walker.

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