Walton Ford Chapman was born in Gainesville, Florida on September 18, 1944. He died suddenly, of a stroke, on September 19, 2021, in Shelburne Falls, MA, his longtime home, while celebrating his birthday with his beloved wife, Carol Cone, dear cousins and friends, Clare Chapman and Rhea Banker, and Walt and Carol’s dog, Maggie Mae, who was Walt’s stalwart companion.
Walt was a self-taught, independent man-of-all-trades known for sinking his intelligence, talents, and hard work into everything he loved. He and Carol restored the 18th-century farmhouse in which they lived, which was also home to Walt’s antique John Deere tractor and baby blue Saab sports car. They both loved to travel, visiting many countries, and sharing a great love for Ireland in particular. Walt was a skilled carpenter who could fix anything and was always ready to help a friend or neighbor. He built a backyard writer’s cottage, and maintained numerous rental properties in Shelburne Falls. Every winter, Walt felled trees from their property, and chopped wood for their boiler, and for many years Walt and Carol kept a large organic vegetable garden. Walt also maintained his family’s ancestral home in Fairfield, Tennessee, a historic property that was once a tavern at the edge of the western frontier and was later operated as a farm by Walt’s great-great grandfather.
Friends and family knew of the many talents and interests that Walt pursued passionately, yet quietly, never bragging about his many accomplishments. Walt was a gifted and soulful piano player well known for his love of boogie woogie, who played professionally for many years in a swing band called the O-Tones. He was also a gourmet cook, he played a mean game of golf, he spoke French, and he read voraciously, devouring the complete works of Trollope one year, just for fun. He loved a good story, especially if it was a bit off-color, and though he maintained an impressively dry wit, a truly funny anecdote could make him laugh so hard he had to remove his glasses to wipe his tears.
Walt was the son of General Leonard F. Chapman, Jr, the 24th commandant of the US Marine Corps, and Emily Donelson Walton Ford Chapman. He had one brother, Leonard F. Chapman III, who died in a scuba diving accident in Okinawa in 1979. Walt grew up living on Marine Corps bases in North Carolina, Virginia, and Yokosuka, Japan. After high school he went to Duke University, and upon graduating, joined the Marine Corps and served in Vietnam. He was stationed at Khe Sahn, where he received a Purple Heart for injuries sustained there. After Vietnam, Walt pursued a masters degree in environmental studies at the University of Michigan.
In all of his pursuits, and in his family, his friendships, and his work, Walt was known for his unceasing generosity, devotion, and determination. He was willing to put in any amount of effort into taking care of those he loved, most especially his wife Carol, and Maggie Mae, who he nursed back to health after two bouts of cancer.
Walt is survived by his wife, Carol Cone; his niece, Danielle Chapman; his cousin, Clare Chapman and her wife, Rhea Banker; his cousin, John Chapman; his brother-in-law, John Cone; his friend-who-was-like-a-son, William Patrick Mackie; his friend-who-was-like-a-daughter, Heng Xian Gu; his great-nieces, Eliza and Fiona Wiman; and his many friends, band mates, and community members in Shelburne Falls and beyond. He will be dearly missed, and remembered by everyone who knew him as a truly distinctive and inimitable person. A celebration of Walt’s life will be planned and announced in the near future.
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