Derek Walker remembered

Posted by Ed Douglas on 05/03/2013
Derek Walker at the 2006 AGM
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Derek Walker, who served as both president and general secretary of the BMC, died in January at the age of 76. A slideshow of pictures of Derek is now available below.

Derek had been recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As BMC general secretary from 1989 until his retirement in 1995, he oversaw major changes, including the relocation of our premises to Didsbury.

Derek began mountain walking in 1954 and took up climbing in 1956 during national service with the RAF Mountain Rescue in North Wales. He was president of the University of Bristol Mountaineering Club in 1959-60 following the first of many Alpine seasons in 1958. He joined the Climbers’ Club in 1960, and served as president from 1984-7. He was a member of the Alpine Club and the Fell & Rock CC.

Before joining the BMC in 1989, he had a long and successful career as a teacher, becoming headmaster of the British School in Punta Arenas in 1966 before teaching at Helsby High School in 1971 where he remained until his appointment as general secretary.

He was a friend of Don Whillans, with whom he first climbed Carnivore on Creag a’Bhancair in 1962, when Whillans made the first ascent of his direct finish. Derek chaired Don’s memorial committee following his death in 1985, which ultimately led to the acquisition of Rockhall Cottage as a climbing hut. In 1991 he led Carnivore for himself, ‘with all the benefits of modern gear and remain in awe of the Villain’s enormous strength and drive’.

Derek led the first British expedition to Patagonia in the winter of 1960-61 and was part of Chris Bonington’s expedition in 1962-63, which made the first ascent of the Central Tower of Paine. Derek, with Ian Clough, made the third ascent of the North Tower.

‘Derek was a very special person,’ BMC patron Sir Chris Bonington says, ‘a good friend, a wonderful family man, a good steady climber who contributed a huge amount to the sport in so many different ways in his work for the BMC.’

Following his retirement in 1995, he climbed, trekked and travelled across the world, including the Himalaya, China, South Africa and revisiting Patagonia. Among his happiest experiences in later life was sharing in the new routing boom around Tafraoute in Morocco with old friends Joe Brown, Trevor Jones, Les Brown and many others.

‘I was lucky enough to climb with Derek in his 50s and 60s when he was still very fit and enthusiastic,’ says former Climbers' Club president Mike Mortimer.  Derek’s technical skill, Mortimer adds, allowed them to do rapid free ascents of the Comici route on the north face of the Cima Grande and the Spigolo Strobel on the Rochetta Alta di Bosconero. 

'He was particularly proud of doing the Cassin on the Torre Trieste: up and down in the day with time for a beer before descending to the valley to join the family for a celebration meal.  We also climbed the Gogna on the Marmolada’ south face in 12 hours when he was sixty years old. We managed a climb in the Dolomites only a few months before he died.  I still find it difficult to believe he is no longer with us.'

Derek was elected president of the BMC in 1999. Well liked and an able negotiator in sometimes fractious circumstances, he was a great servant to British climbing and will be much missed.

'He was a wonderful diplomat,’ Bonington says, ‘very inclusive, always had time for everyone and never had a bad word for anyone.  He was devoted to the climbing club scene, took an active part in club business and was a very effective president of the Climbers’ Club. He's a huge loss; a person loved and respected by all.’

A memorial service for Derek was held at St Laurence Parish Church in Frodsham on Thursday 31 January with a reception afterwards at Frodsham Golf Club. BMC representatives were among about 300 people who attended the packed-out memorial service, clearly reflecting Derek's popularity.

The BMC wishes to express its deepest condolences to his wife Hilary, and the rest of his family.

Obituary: The Independent

Watch a slideshow of pictures of Derek.

Derek Walker from team_BMC on Vimeo.

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1) Anonymous User
God bless Derek. A great person.

Mick Ryan
2) Anonymous User
A sad day for British mountaineering; Derek's contribution through his own climbing, the CC and the BMC was immense. More importantly, we have lost a great friend and a really good guy.

Andy Newton
3) Anonymous User
Derek was a gentle man. A quiet man who achieved great things for the mountaineers of the UK. We need committee men just as much as we need the heroes. We just don't like admitting it. And Derek was the consummate master. He would have done well in the diplomatic service. He gave me a life long ambition to visit the Towers of Paine. Still not done it Derek ... but will do. Thoughts to family.
Bob Reid
4) Anonymous User
I am saddened. I owe Derek a great deal having been one of "Derek's lad's" at Helsby High School in the late 70's/early 80's. He instilled in me and others a love of a sport that has lasted many decades and given me some of the best times of my life. Our weekly forays onto the sandstone of Helsby Hill and Frodsham with the occasional arm-pumping trip to Pex Hill fuelled our ambitions to explore the Peak and Snowdonia often borrowing Derek's gear before we accumulated our own - he was generous like that. I recall my first ever hanging belay on an overhanging roof crack at Helsby, attempted so that Derek could try out a new piece of gear, a'Friend'. Would this new-fangled item do the job? I might have been nervous except that Derek inspired such confidence in his pupils, always exuding an air of calm, a confidence in what he was doing - we joked about him being 'a cat on rock' - such was his surety of movement. He gave us our first introduction to Gogarth - serious cliffs - I recall his concern both for our safety and our enjoyment on those occasions, fleshed out with stories, many of which revolved around our climbing heroes; many being contemporaries and friends of his - that Paine trip for example, in the course of which the hawser ropes that were used, we would use top-roping in Cheshire, unaware at the time of their pedigree. Thank you Derek for all you did for me and my early climbing companions - and for British climbing.

My condolences to Derek's family.

Alan Bowring
5) Anonymous User
I was deeply sorry to hear the news of Derek death tonight. He will be greatly missed. What a wonderful man.
6) Anonymous User
Sorry to hear the sad news always enjoyed his company in the high mountains.
Chris Forrest
7) Anonymous User
A great loss.

Derek taught me how to climb, on the Helsby & Frodsham crags (and got me onto one of Andy Newton's fantastic climbing courses in Cornwall). When I look back, taking a group of sixth-formers onto the same, short routes, week after week, might have been rather dull for such an accomplished climber and mountaineer, but Derek was always so enthusiastic and patient.

Derek also showed me how to ski off piste (although I never mastered his exceptionally 'neat' style!).

And to top it all, he was a great history teacher.

8) Anonymous User
We have lost a great friend, an excellent x headmaster here in Punta Arenas where he is remembered by many people in all different walks of life.

Hugh and Cathy MacLeay
9) Anonymous User
A really sad loss to the climbing scene. A great guy, always ready with advice, always friendly, always enthusiastic and supportive. Tony Howard
10) Anonymous User
A good friend and mentor to me at the BMC. Derek was one of those climbers I had heard of but never met until the late 90s at a BMC meeting at Plas-Y-Brenin. I wish I had met and climbed with him much earlier.

Derek was a true gentleman and a thoroughly decent guy who was accommodating and always willing to help and advise. He combined being a climber's climber and a family man. My deep condolences to Hilary and the rest of the family.

Dave Musgrove
11) Anonymous User

Derek Walker was an exceptional person on many levels. He was cheerful, diligent, hardworking, hospitable and a superb communicator. He was a true gentleman.
The worth of a person is often seen when the going gets tough. In January 1970 Derek invited me to join him on an attempt to climb Cerro Castillo Dynevor in Chilean Patagonia. The approach was extremely arduous as the ascent is initially blocked by Nirres (Nothofagus Antarctica) a very dense, low, tangled forest which has thwarted many people in Patagonia. This is followed by vast masses of peat moss before reaching the base of the tower (Castillo Dynevor) which is very loose and crumbling conglomerate. We were unable to get one rope length up this impressive tower and had to retreat. What I remember to this day was how Derek dealt with what both of us agreed was one of the worst experiences we had ever had in the mountains. He was cheerful, optimistic, positive and accepting of the situation. I was enormously impressed.
He was a wonderful companion to have in the mountains particularly when the going was arduous and gruelling.
Derek has been a contributor to the community on many, many levels. He will be greatly missed.
My sincere condolences to Hilary and the family on the sad loss of a long standing and good friend.

Alistair McArthur, Melbourne, Australia
12) Anonymous User
What a sad loss, he was a teacher at my school & I had know idea what he had achieved!! Great respect, my thoughts go out to his family & friends!!

Jonathan Lewis
13) Anonymous User
Derek and Hiliary came to Yosemite in 1978 or so.
I was fortunate to climb with him. We did the classics- Nutcracker, Fairview Dome, Hobbit Book and many others.
I learned how to be a "family man climber" from Derek and Hiliary. A wonderful man in all respects and such a joy to be with in the mountains.
I remember a comment he made on our last climb together. "Would you lead the next pitch Larry, it's fairly unprotected and I'm a grandfather now"- said with a twinkle in his eye.


BMC Specialist Committees: what do they do?

Much of the work of the BMC is overseen by specialist committees made up of volunteers with relevant skills and experience, who guide the work of BMC staff. Find out more about what these committees do, and how you can get involved.
Read more »

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National Council provides a forum for discussing topical issues of concern to members and is the BMC’s main policy making body.
Read more »

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