James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with four non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.
My Uncle Walter
My beloved Uncle Walter DeCock died the other day. He was 63 years old. He died of lung cancer.
I first met Walter DeCock in 1998 at our aviation business, which was located at the Orlando-Sanford International Airport. He came in asking for something, but I couldn't understand what it was at first. I finally deciphered that what he wanted was to earn a Jet Type Rating in a Cessna Citation, for which my company offered training. Walter spoke 11 languages—including Swahili—but none of them well.
Walter had no concrete plans to fly a Citation. He just thought a Jet Type Rating would be impressive on his pilot's license. He got the rating, and we became fast friends. I've never had a better friend than Walter DeCock. After the Payne Stewart plane crash many people called to offer me their condolences and support, but Walter was in my office the next morning where he whipped out his checkbook and said, "You're going to need money to get through this tragedy," and he wrote out a check to my company for $100,000 marked as a loan—I paid him back a few months later. That was the most genuine and unselfish gesture I have ever received; it was one of the most poignant moments of my life.
Walter grew up in a orphanage in Belgium. He was dropped off there at an early age. I don't think he ever knew who his parents were. After reaching adulthood, Walter served in the military as a soldier. He would eventually become a NATO Commander.
After his military service, Walter took to the high seas as a merchant marine. He traveled the world aboard huge cargo ships. At some point, an old acquaintance recruited him as a mercenary soldier in the Angolan Civil War. It was there that he was captured and tortured while a prisoner of war.
After he was freed, Walter ended up a meandering beach bum on the coast of Spain. He had no home, no employment, and no shoes. But he said he was plenty happy there, nonetheless. On the beach one day he met a woman and they struck up a romance. Little did he know that this woman was one of the wealthiest women in Germany. She dressed him up in the finest suits and bought him a few sport cars.
Walter was a handsome and charming man. He was a manly man. And always the life of the party. Walter used to hang out in Monaco with Prince Rainier and his daughters, Princess Caroline and Princess Stephanie. He also came to know Princess Di quite well. Well enough to spend time in the Mediterranean on her yacht.
In spite of this life of luxury, Walter never forgot where he came from and he was unfailingly gregarious—and even generous— to each and every person with whom he came in contact. Walter and I had many great experiences together. He invited me on a number of trips, and he accompanied me to quite a few aviation conventions. He also began coming with me a few times a year when I would visit my home towns, the twin cities of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, Michigan. He eventually married my Aunt and became my Uncle Walter. From then on he no longer called me James very often—he addressed me as Nephew.
I'll Miss My Uncle Walter
Walter was a heavy drinker and a heavy smoker. More days than not ended up with him drunk. And he cussed like a sailor. Of course, he was a sailor. He would drop the F-Bomb and the MF-Bomb as a part of normal conversation, even with people he had just met. Oddly enough, he pulled it off. Sure, some were taken aback at first. But everybody loved him! The only complaint I ever heard about Walter was, "I can't understand him!"
Walter was an incredible character. I never knew anybody who was more fun to be with—or more intelligent—or more witty. Walter had little sayings, such as the way he would introduce himself, "I'm Walter and I love myself." He loved things that were "Simple but Good." And his favorite: "Boys will be Boys."
Walter came with me and my entourage to Atlanta for an aviation convention. The NBAA Convention is one of the largest in world—only three cities have a convention floor large enough to hold it. We walked all day on thin carpet laid over concrete, and at the end of the day our feet hurt. We repaired to the hotel lounge to have a few cold beers and in came my third wife. She said, "James, you are coming up to our room now." I replied, "I'm going to have a couple beers with Walter, but I'll be up soon." She responded that I was coming up to the room NOW. Walter chimed in with, "Let James stay awhile. Boys will be boys!" She replied, "Boys will be divorced boys!" Walter told that story in my presence many times. I, of course, stayed with Walter. And I, of course, became a divorced boy.
My Aunt that Walter married died a few years ago. Walter had a fabulous home in the Majorca Islands; a home near Daytona Beach on the point where the intercoastal waterway flows into the Atlantic Ocean; and a wild piece of property in Florida that looked like Florida must have looked like before the white man came. On the latter two Walter had army tanks positioned on the front lawn. Walter was very much into guns and armaments. He had a 50 Caliber machine gun he played around with for fun.
Walter owned many vintage cars and boats, and new luxury cars as well. He let me drive his brand new Lamborghinis and Rolls Royces on a number of occasions. Everywhere he went, people never forgot him or his name. We would travel to a new city and within a couple of days I would hear people greet him by name in uncanny numbers.
Walter traveled the world more than any man I have known. I never knew where he would call me from next. Walter called me from Tehran, Baghdad, Riyadh, Timbuktu, Kabul, Dubai, and countless other places.
Walter and I may have seemed like an odd couple. I am a Christian, and Walter did not believe in God. He did soften his stance after he got sick. I worked on him as best I could. He was diagnosed with lung cancer a few years ago and flew to Hamburg, Germany, where he owned a home and was personal friends with what he said was the best cancer surgeon in the world. The surgeon cut out half of one lung and told Walter not to ever use chemotherapy or radiation—that both were poison. Walter lived another year or two. He eventually developed visible tumors on his neck and shoulders that I touched. He passed on a few days ago. I loved my Uncle Walter. I will miss him very much. They broke the mold after they made Walter. He was truly one of a kind.