58-Year-Old Was Major Shareholder in Retail Giant His Father Founded

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- John T. Walton, the second son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and a member of the company’s board, died Monday when an ultra-light aircraft he was piloting crashed shortly after takeoff. He was 58.

Photo: AP
John Walton died piloting an ultra-light plane.
Mr. Walton did not play a role in day-to-day operations at the company, but served as a powerful symbol as a direct descendent of founder Sam Walton and a link to the earlier and more humble days of the world’s largest retailer.

Played role after father's death
Mr. Walton began playing a role at the retail behemoth after his father’s death in 1992. He also served on the company’s strategic planning and finance committee.

With his death, only the eldest Walton son, Robert, remains actively involved with the company.

Jeff Leshay, an expert in crisis communications and executive vice president at Edelman Public Relations, said the death would have a greater impact internally and would have little impact on the external reputation of the company.

“Wal-Mart has done a great job establishing the Wal-Mart name and reputation beyond the family,” Mr. Leshay said. “I don’t see a significant impact here, although he did play an important role as a member of the board.”

Major shareholder
John Walton was a major stakeholder in Wal-Mart. He owned about 12 million shares. He was also a board member of the Walton Family Foundation. A major advocate of school vouchers, he is credited with steering the foundation to make contributions toward this cause.

Mr. Walton served in the U.S. Army Green Berets as a medic during the Vietnam War, earning a Silver Star, according to a Wal-Mart press release, which also offered the following personal details, that Mr. Walton worked as a crop duster in the 1970s and as a boat builder in the 1980s and '90s.

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