Remembering Judge Walsh who shaped modern history taught me to skip rocks

To the Editor:

A few weeks ago, on March 19, Judge Lawrence E. Walsh passed away in Oklahoma City.  He was 102 years old.

According to The New York Times, “Few American lawyers have had as long and varied a career in both the public and private spheres as Mr. Walsh. Besides sitting on the federal bench, he was a prosecutor, corporate litigator, counsel to Gov. Thomas E. Dewey of New York, deputy attorney general under President Dwight D. Eisenhower and a negotiator at the Paris peace talks during the Vietnam War.”

Walsh gained international fame when he was appointed Independent Counsel in December 1986 to investigate the Iran-Contra affair.    Most will remember his headlining convictions of Oliver North and Admiral John Poindexter.

While many villagers are aware of this, I’ll wager that very few know that “Ed” Walsh and his family resided in Altamont for a few years in the early 1950s.

They lived in a house that stood on the east corner of Park and Main streets, diagonally across from Steve Veneer’s drug store (later owned by Gil DeLucia).    The house was razed in later years to accommodate the construction of the Key Bank.

They shared this house with the Bivona family, who had taken up residence here in 1952.   Gary Bivona and I became great childhood friends, and we found a ready playmate in Janet Walsh, the younger of two daughters (Barbara was the older sister).

A 1957 picture of Judge Walsh, his wife, mother, and daughter Janet can be seen at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/21/us/politics/lawrence-e-walsh-iran-contra-prosecutor-dies-at-102.html?_r=0

My fondest memory of Ed Walsh was when he would take Janet; Gary; my sister, Pam; and me in his car to visit various local sites of interest.   My most vivid recollection was a trip to the “Rickety Rackety” Bridge close to the intersection of Bozenkill and Westfall roads. 

The old bridge had been built with a wooden bed.  Beneath it flowed the Bozenkill Creek, and our childhood joy was to stand on the banks below the span to be treated to the loud clatter of its planks under the press of crossing automobiles.

But that trip will stand out in my mind for another reason.   It was the day Ed Walsh taught us how to skip flat rocks on water.

Not much, you say?   Well, perhaps not, but I bet most people will remember the first time they learned that magic trick.  

In those days, every self-respecting boy was expected to stock and manage a toolkit of essential skills.   Rock-skipping was right up there with tying your shoes, playing baseball, riding a bicycle without training wheels, and effectively wielding a slingshot.

At any rate, it was a thoroughly edifying and enjoyable afternoon.   It is a memory snapshot that I’ll cherish, for the heart that beat in that callow child’s breast still beats within me today.

The Walshes moved away from Altamont in 1954 when President Eisenhower appointed Ed to the position of United States district judge for the Southern District of New York, Manhattan. The rest is history.

As a record of events and people, history is applied to the canvas with broad brushstrokes.  Judge Walsh long ago secured his place in the books as one of the men who affected the shape and complexion of modern history.    But I will remember him for a different reason.

Over six decades have passed since that idyllic day, and much water has passed under the bridge that was long ago replaced by the current structure of concrete, steel, and asphalt.  

For me, Ed Walsh will always be the man who taught rock-skipping to a 6-year-old boy on the waters of the Bozenkill, beneath the Rickety Rackety Bridge on a summer day long ago.

Frederick Crounse
Altamont

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