Memorial at the Foreign Correspondents Club
December 11, 2004 Hong Kong
Good evening everyone and thanks for coming tonight for the Hong Kong wake in memory
of Jim Walker... friend, colleague, mentor, brother, husband and father... as you know, Jim
died a few weeks ago in Australia after a brief illness. His passing, while shocking and
sudden, was painless and peaceful and allowed proper closure between Jim and his family...
something death does not always accommodate. Jim was also told of the many hundreds of
well wishers who prayed for him and he took comfort in knowing so many people were
thinking of him and his family during those difficult days and final hours in November.
After Jim died, Elaine made the decision to celebrate Jim’s life in as upbeat and positive
manner as possible. Knowing Jim’s lifelong love of horseracing and his non-religious nature,
the idea of hold a racing wake for him at Australia’s Gold Coast Turf Club and scattering
some of his ashes on the course proper seemed perfectly normal and fitting, particularly to
me, his punting partner for over 25 years. There was a very large turnout on a bright sunny
day – it had a great positive feel with everyone in their finest racing attire. At Sophie’s
suggestion, we also had a fashion show... you can visualise the scene, dozens of
contestants with Sophie as the head judge... glamorous and colorful but I think a bit rigged.
One of her favourite teachers won first prize - she's cunning, just like her dad.
Racing was an important part of Jim's life. He had a lifelong knack of finding value bets. On
Jim’s last day racing, on the Derby Day which traditionally kicks off the Melbourne Cup
Carnival that he and I had attended so often, he had a large winning bet on a horse called
Hollow Bullet at 7-1. Feeling very ill, he collected his winnings and headed back to the hotel
a winner while the rest of the table lost huge sums on the featured tips of the day. Ever the
judge of rising talent, Hollow Bullet went on to win the famous Oaks Race on the Thursday
of cup week, Australia’s premier race for fillies.
The idea tonight is to gather as many of Jim’s Asian-based friends as possible and to
celebrate his life. Being such a well-loved person, there is also a need for closure amongst
the friends and colleagues in the region who were unable to attend the Australian wake
and who remain saddened and mystified by how such a great person can be taken away so
Jim was many faceted – a keen sportsman, competitive golfer, shrewd businessman, loyal
colleague, loving father and a real gentleman….what cricketers all an “ALLROUNDER”. His
hockey PHADS shared a great camaraderie that lasted 25 years – with some of you here
Despite his many successes and his huge impact on the Asian financial scene, Jim was a
modest guy. I guess that is what made him all the more likeable. He had time for everyone
and made them feel at ease despite his seniority and status. He has mentored countless
people and recognised in them talent they didn’t realise in themselves.....myself being one
of the oldest examples. From the first day we met, I looked upon Jim as an older brother --
he always seemed to have the right answer, be it on business, personal or equine issues.
This was true all through our long business partnership, through the poverty years and the
glory years. He was an excellent judge of people and always looked on the bright side of
most situations, optimistic that something would work out.
Such was Jim’s modesty, that his legions of friends in Australia had no idea what an
important business figure he was in Asia. I always found this kind of funny, and had the
chance to set it right at the wake and since then scores of people have written on the
website -- at www.aussiejim.com -- to
provide a lasting and complete remembrance to our good friend. We have a few computers
here tonight so please take a minute to write something if you haven’t already.
And keep looking at the site from time to time, as it will have details about The Jim Walker
Foundation, which is being set up to help Asian students get journalism training in Australia.
Details on how to contribute to the foundation are already on the site. In future, profiles of
successful applicants will be posted as well as their published work as the years go by.
Helping to improve the quality of journalism in Asia via the Australian system would mean a
lot to Jim and it is a fitting reminder of his life. He would be the first to admit that journalism
brought him to Asia and, frankly, if it paid better we would probably both still be in the
game. If it weren’t for journalism, the future success he enjoyed would never have been
You won’t be surprised to learn that as journalists the Foreign Correspondents Club was a
place in which we used to hang around a lot. There were endless nights of arguments in the
lower bar about the mental health of our Morning Post editors and the state of the media in
Asia. We used to play a lot of poker in the basement until he and I held most of the markers
and weren’t getting paid anymore... and 22 years ago tonight, in this very room we
celebrated Jim and Elaine’s wedding in a truly elaborate affair.
The rapid courting of Elaine was a fine example of Jim’s optimistic outlook. Elaine had made
a fleeting visit to Hong Kong in 1984. At the time, we were struggling with a very
imaginative but heavily indebted publishing company and only a few weeks before had left
Macau with just 30 HK cents each for the tram ride home to Happy Valley. McDonalds was
all we could afford to eat and that was normally only once a day.
So you can imagine my surprise when Jim breathlessly announced that Elaine was THE one,
that he planned to leave immediately for Mexico to meet her and did not plan to return until
she agreed to marry him.
"How do you plan to pay for it," I asked incredulously. "I don’t know," he replied with a wry
smile, "but I’ll figure something out. I’ve just got to do it." Jim did manage to raise the funds,
make the trip and pay for the wedding. Any less an optimist wouldn’t have taken the put
and what turned into a splendid 22 year love affair might never have happened.
His optimism and gentle way was an inspiration to all of us. He was very effective in getting
things done without being aggressive about it - a concept of management I am still trying to
master a quarter century later. He was able to see good things in people that had gone
overlooked and CLSA benefited greatly from his wisdom and judgment, not to mention the
countless young folks that he mentored along the way. The huge crowd here tonight, from
all walks of Jim’s life, is testimony to that.
Death is impossible to comprehend for the living but I feel strongly that Jim's spirit is alive in
all of us who knew and loved him. The bonds we felt to Jim cannot just disappear on
physical death... he is here, watching over us tonight with a twinkle in his eye. Jim lived his
life to the full and that should be a message to everyone......you don’t have long in this
world so make every minute count, as Jim did. Take a calculated chance, have fun…enjoy.
Finally, I want to say just how remarkable Elaine and Sophie were in those distressing days.
They comforted Jim immensely in his final hours in the most dignified human interaction I
have ever seen. Sophie is a very wise soul and gave the adults correct guidance on a
number of occasions... she lay in bed beside Jim at the end, his arm draped happily and
protectively over her shoulder. No one who saw that scene as I did could help but believe in
a higher order that reunites such loving spirits. I felt so lucky to have been there and it
helped me personally to reach closure over Jim’s death. There is something else out there.
So tonight, let's celebrate and remember the best of times we enjoyed with Jim and
hopefully, collectively, we can ease the pain of his passing and reach closure. I spoke a
moment ago about the spiritual level but day-to-day I don’t really think of him as being
gone - that would be impossible. He’s just gone to the betting window, he's in the next
foursome, he's gone to see a client... he's out for a beer. He's still here, today, tomorrow
One last thing. The tributes to Jim on the website have been just great and I know Elaine
and Sophie, plus many of you, have been greatly comforted by the extraordinary outpouring
of thoughts and love... what a pity that it takes someone's death to trigger words like
these. If there is one thing to takeaway from tonight it is this... express yourself more often
to those who are important to you, at whatever level and whatever subject you think is
important. you might not get a second chance...
Let’s raise a toast to Jim before I ask Elaine to say a few words….To Jim….