On the death of Ralph Waite

 

The world has become a little poorer. We all have lost with the death of Ralph Waite a man, who was for so many of us and all over the world, a personal role model. A man, who through the personification in a single role as John Walton, offered incentives to others to rethink their lives and give them a new direction.

John Walton was a straightforward, honest man, a caring father, a loving husband and son. A good neighbor. A friend.

When Ralph Waite assumed this role, which should be the role of his life, his own life ran in very different ways. He was born in 1928 in New York, he worked after completion of the Bachelor of Arts first as a social worker and later as a minister in the Presbyterian Church, which he frustrated left years later. By chance he discovered his love for the theater and acting after he took a trial class at a drama school with a friend. Ralph Waite was already over 30 years old, married and father of three daughters. Thanks to many part-time jobs he was able to pursue his true passion and he slowly made himself a name in the industry. 1964, a heavy blow of fate hit him, his eldest daughter Sharon died at the age of only nine years from leukemia. Two years later (1966) his marriage was divorced after 15 years. Ralph Waite ventured a new start in Los Angeles on the West Coast of the United States. His two young daughters stayed with their mother in New York.

Already in his early years Ralph Waite was an alcoholic which was certainly reinforced by the death of his daughter and the failed marriage but his career went steeply uphill. In 1971 he was offered the role as John Walton, head of the family, a simple extended family in rural Virginia in the 30s. The series was an absolute hit. Within a short time “The Waltons” were TV favorites of the American audience and a little later worldwide. Ralph Waite enjoyed this time; he liked to celebrate and regularly drank a lot of alcohol. In later years he described himself at the time as an alcoholic who no longer could do without, not to mention to stay in front of the camera. However, the role as the loving, caring and responsible John Walton did not remain without effect on him.

There was this one scene that brought the turning point in the life of Ralph Waite. The scene is from the episode “The Boy from the CCC” (Season 1). In the pouring rain the family said goodbye to Elizabeth's little friend, a raccoon which died. Elizabeth is heartbroken over the loss. John tries to comfort her, but Elizabeth accuses him that he could have helped the raccoon if he had wanted and had taken time for it. Then she runs away sobbing.

On the occasion of Waltons reunion 2012 for the 40th anniversary in Los Angeles Ralph Waite spoke about this moment. He told how he drove home after this scene and thought of his two daughters in New York, of his own life, of the parties and the alcohol. And he decided to change his life radically. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous and he succeeded getting out permanently of alcohol addiction.

In 1975 he founded the Los Angeles Actors Theater, which he financed in large part by himself. In 1978 he received an Emmy nomination for his superb performance as John Walton.

Ralph Waite was a wonderful actor who could look back on a decade-long, impressive career. In recent years he was very successful as Gibbs father in the TV series Navy CIS for which he regularly stood in front of the camera till the end.

Ralph Waite was also a very political person and committed for the Democrats.

In old age he found his way back to the church. In 2010, he became a minister in the local church community Spirit of the Desert Presbyterian Fellowship in Palm Desert where he ministered regularly.

Since the mid-80s Ralph Waite has been living with his third wife, Linda, whom he married in 1982, in Palm Desert. Sudden he passed away peacefully at home on 13 February 2014.  He was 85 years old. Ralph left behind his wife Linda, his two daughters, Kathleen and Suzanne and his stepson Liam.

Manfred and I had the great fortune to meet Ralph Waite personally. We are happy to think back to this reunion in 2012 in Los Angeles. The Walton Fan Club celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the series and countless actors had confirmed their attendance, including Ralph Waite. That evening they were all there, except Ralph Waite. My fear that something unexpectedly came up which prevented him from attending the event grew with each minute. When he finally stood in the doorway laughing, in a fine suit with a blue shirt and those bright blue eyes, tears of happiness and relief welled up in my eyes. I was sitting at my table, just a few feet away from him. It took some time until I had regained control, but when Ralph stood at our table all was well again. Ralph Waite and his son Liam were our table mates, which was a great honor for us and we will never ever forget that evening. At the end of the evening I took courage and asked Ralph if I could give him a hug. He laughed and said, yes, of course, and then he hugged me. These are moments that are indescribable.

Ralph Waite was the "Daddy" for countless people worldwide. People, who were not lucky to grow up in a loving family, people living in difficult circumstances or had to grow up without parents at all. He was very aware of this role and he gave back the love that his audience, his fans had for him, with great gratitude and joy.

We will always remember you with a smile, Ralph!

Good Night, Daddy Walton!

   

  
       

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