Widow of Wal-Mart Founder Dedicated Her Life to Benefit Children, Education and the Arts
A public memorial service will be held at the 1st Presbyterian Church in Bentonville on Monday, April 23 at 1:30 p.m.. The service will be officiated by the Reverend Arthur Fogartie.
In lieu of flowers or cards, the Walton family requests that anyone wishing to offer a memorial in Helen Walton’s honor do so by making a contribution to one of the following organizations that were important to Mrs. Walton during her life:
Bentonville First Presbyterian Church
901 Northeast J Street
Bentonville, AR 72712
Helen R. Walton Children’s Enrichment Center
1701 NE Wildcat Way
Bentonville, AR 72712
University of the Ozarks
Attn: Rick Niece
415 N. College Ave.
Clarksville, AR 72830
“We are so proud of our mother and the life she led,” said Rob Walton, eldest son of Sam and Helen Walton and chairman of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. “She devoted much of her life to helping others, and to improving the quality of life in Northwest Arkansas. Today, my brother and sister, and the entire Walton and Robson families mourn my mother’s death. But we also celebrate her extraordinary life.”
Helen Robson was born Dec. 3, 1919, in Claremore, Oklahoma. Her parents, L.S. and Hazel Carr Robson, instilled in Helen a strong appreciation for traditional “small town” values: the importance of a strong work ethic, honesty and integrity, and of giving back to the community. All of these would serve her and her family well in the exciting years to come.
In April of 1942, after graduating from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in Finance, Helen met an ambitious young man who was working in Pryor, Oklahoma. His name was Sam Walton.
In his autobiography, Sam Walton: Made in America, Mr. Walton wrote, “When Helen and I met and I started courting her, I just fell right in love. She was pretty and smart and educated, ambitious and opinionated and strong-willed – with ideas and plans of her own. Also, like me, she was an athlete who loved the outdoors, and she had lots of energy.”
Helen Robson and Sam Walton were married on Valentine’s Day in 1943 in Claremore and spent two years living the army life. By the time he fulfilled his military duty in 1945, Sam had decided what he wanted to do for a living – retailing. He and Helen eventually settled in Newport, Arkansas, a cotton and railroad town of 7,000 people in the Mississippi River Delta country of eastern Arkansas. There, in September of 1945, Sam and Helen Walton opened their first retail store together, a Ben Franklin “five and dime.”
Five years later, after the Walton’s landlord in Newport refused to renew their lease for the store, the couple moved to a small country town in Northwest Arkansas named Bentonville. In 1962, the Waltons opened their first Wal-Mart in Rogers, AR. Until his death in 1992, Sam considered Helen as one of his best business advisors, and he credited her for the original idea for the Wal-Mart profit-sharing plan, which gives all associates an opportunity to share in the profits of the company.
Helen also was driven by a passion to improve the lives of those less fortunate than she, whether they attended local schools or lived in faraway communities. “We knew we had to do something,” is the way she often prefaced her comments about an important cause. In fact, when asked to provide biographical information for her induction into the Oklahoma Heritage Association’s Hall of Fame, she described her work as, “Volunteer to community, state and nation.”
Helen’s philanthropic activity was focused on education, the arts, and families and children. She also was very active at the local and national level in the Presbyterian Church.
Her accomplishments in the philanthropic area include:
- Served as president of the Walton Family Foundation when in 2002 it made a $300 million gift to the University of Arkansas, the largest gift ever made to a public university in the United States. This gift followed an earlier $50 million grant by the Foundation to the University’s Sam M. Walton School of Business.
- Established “Walton Scholars” scholarship program for the children of Wal-Mart associates. This program provides scholarships to 150 children annually.
- Along with Sam Walton, led the development of a program to bring students from Central America to three private Arkansas colleges to study, with an emphasis on democracy and free enterprise. Approximately 1,000 students have participated in this program since 1985, and have returned or will return to their home countries after earning their degrees so they can apply their learning and experience there.
- Served as a leading supporter of the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
- In 1982, helped develop a non-profit child care and development center for children of working parents in Northwest Arkansas. The center was renamed in her honor in 1985.
- Was a leading and long-time financial supporter of the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Arkansas, and also served as Chairwoman of the University’s Board of Trustees and served as an honorary lifetime Chairwoman since 1984.
In 1997, Helen accepted on behalf of her family the National Patriot Award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. This represented the first time in the Society’s history that the award was presented to a family
Helen Walton was preceded in death by son, John, and is survived by brother Frank Robson; two sons, Rob and Jim; a daughter, Alice; eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Every week, millions of customers visit Wal-Mart Stores, Supercenters, Neighborhood Markets, and Sam’s Club locations across America. The company and its Foundation are committed to a philosophy of giving back locally. Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) is proud to support the causes that are important to customers and associates right in their own neighborhoods, and last year gave more than $270 million to local United States communities. To learn more, visit www.walmartfacts.com, www.walmart.com, or www.walmartfoundation.org.