The late former president George H. W. Bush’s cousin George Herbert Walker III has played a significant role in donating to Webster University, and the George Herbert-Walker School of Business and Technology is named after him. Since the 1970s, Walker has built a relationship with not only Webster, but also Webster’s people.
One of those people being former dean Dr. Benjamin Akande. He said Walker sometimes invites Akande and his wife to their summer home in Maine.
“[Walker]and his wife are very special to both my wife and myself,” Akande said. “They introduced us to the presence of the Bushes. We become very good friends with their children and their grandchildren. Our relationship has expanded beyond Webster. He was always there for us and that’s what made the relationship so special. But that relationship started because of Webster.”
Walker said he got involved with Webster University when the president of the university at the time in 1970s, Leigh Gerdine, invited him to be a part of the board of trustees. He said he admired how Gerdine was devoted to learning and helping young people to develop leadership skills and commitment to the community.
Walker contributed $10 million in 2007 to the business school, which is the largest contributions in Webster University history. He and his wife also donated $1 million to establish a Walker Leadership Institute at Eden Seminary. Walker has served as a board chairman of the University’s Board of Trustee twice since 1974, and he became life trustee in 2003. He also served as a chairman of the advisory board for the business school.
Walker was surprised to find the business school was named after him. He said he is honored Webster made the decision to have the building in his name.
“I have great respect for what is going on at Webster University,” Walker said. “I didn’t feel that the little bit I had done deserved to have my name on the building even though I had made what was for me a significant contribution. I think having my name on [the building] was more than I had ever asked for.”
He served as a U.N. Ambassador for Hungary from 2003-2006, which gained him international relationships that allowed him to contribute these connections to the university by inviting speakers.
He said serving the community of St. Louis is important to him and having support from his late cousin George H.W. Bush who was very close to him.
Walker feels the former president contributed to the community in what he thought were important things going on in the U.S. Walker said his cousin appreciated and admired all of the commitment he did for the St. Louis community on a local level.
“I was delighted to make a contribution to the community by becoming involved in St Louis and in education and I think that meant a great deal unlike the late former president George H. W. Bush, who contributed on a much more national scale,” Walker said.
Akande said there was a time when he met Walker and his wife at his home to talk about Walker’s involvement and commitment to Webster.
“He told me about how he had a chance to work with numerous presidents. His passion is the fact that Webster is an empowering institution for first generation college students,” Akande said. “It shapes his commitment to Webster.”
Their good relationship, he said, stems from getting to know each other through conversation during meetings when Walker was a part of the advisory board for the business school. Walker would share and use his influence and relationship with Webster to have new members join the board, Akande said.
He said when the members became a part of the board, they contribute and get more people involved with Webster because of Walker’s compassion and influence.
Akande said Walker has been supportive of the business school by helping them have national speakers come to Webster. He said the school had CEOs from companies like Disney, chairman of the Institute of Business Forecasting (IBF), the former president of the New York Stock Exchange and the Security Exchange Commission who all have a relationship with Walker.
James Brasfield, a retired Professor Emeritus of Management at Webster University, said when Walker was a chairman of the board, he was open and interested to hear what was going in the business school. He said it is rare for a chairman of the board to meet with the faculty senate alone.
“Several of us in the faculty met with him for breakfast and he was interested on our perspectives and suggestions for the board, which was really unique,” Brasfield said. “The history of Webster that I can see, it was pretty rare for a board chairman to meet with the faculty group without the administration and just meet with us.”
He said he considers Walker a friend who showed dedication to making Webster a better place and fulfilling the mission to insure the students receive greater knowledge. Brasfield said Walker was interested in teaching a course at the business school and they created an evening eight week course focusing on leadership and management.
Brasfield said Walker worked hard to put the course together. He said when Walker was out of town, he was concerned that he was not going to be in time for class. Brasfield said Walker asked him to meet with the students because he did not want the students to leave. He said he met with the students and they expressed how they liked Walker and how much they gained from the course.
“If I have a contest and pick out to the member of the board that made the greatest contribution to Webster University over the last several decades certainly Bert Walker would be far my choice for the board member who made a positive contributions,” Brasfield said. “Not just in terms of writing a big check, but in terms of his interest, engagement, and encouragement over an extraordinarily long period of time.”