Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

William 'Sarge' Walsh, golf group's leader

Known as a kind and gentle man, William T. Walsh had to be tough to help manage a household with 15 children, which is how he became known to family and friends as "Sarge."

Known as a kind and gentle man, William T. Walsh had to be tough to help manage a household with 15 children, which is how he became known to family and friends as "Sarge."

"My father served time in the Navy, but the name comes from my brother Andrew, who goes by 'Bucky,' " Paul "Chet" Walsh said Thursday. "Bucky was quite the character, but he always kind of found a way to a soft spot in my father.

"To keep 15 kids in line, obviously you had to be strict and a disciplinarian. Bucky used to kid him that he was like a sergeant in the Army barking out orders at us. So he became Sarge, and everybody knew that, even his nurse at the nursing home. Everybody knew who you were talking about when you said 'Sarge.' "

Mr. Walsh, 91, of Devon, a former Golf Association of Philadelphia (GAP) president who found the time to work tirelessly to help grow golf in the area, died Wednesday, Dec. 18. Paul Walsh said his father suffered from melanoma and endured a series of ministrokes over the last six months.

Mr. Walsh was a fine golfer. He won the club championship at Philadelphia Country Club seven times and captured the 1991 GAP Senior Championship at the age of 69, which he called his finest achievement in golf. His son said he played close to 630 courses during his life and shot his age or better more than 300 times.

Raised in Westfield, N.J., and graduated in 1943 from Villanova University, Mr. Walsh thought about becoming a priest, but felt too much of an attraction to women to be happy in that vocation, his son said. He married Barbara Straub, a Philadelphia fashion model, in 1948.

"He figured the only way to still be a good Catholic was to have at least 10 kids," Paul Walsh said. "He wanted to meet a woman that wanted to have a large family, which my mom wanted to have. As she likes to say, 'We oversubscribed by five.' "

The Walsh family was heavily into sports - the boys in golf and the girls in swimming. Mr. Walsh won 10 GAP Father and Son tournaments with four children, the last at age 90 with Paul as his partner. Six of the Walsh girls swan in U.S. national competitions, and two took part in U.S. Olympic trials.

Mr. Walsh served on the executive committee of GAP for 13 years and officiated as president from 1992 through 1994. During his time in office, he pushed through a change in the bylaws that would allow nonprivate courses to become members of GAP.

He worked tirelessly to raise money for the J. Wood Platt Caddie Scholarship Trust, which awards financial aid to caddies who wish to attend college. Paul Walsh said his father raised $1.2 million in the 12 years he headed fund-raising at Philadelphia Country Club.

"He enjoyed playing the game, but he felt the responsibility to pass on the qualities of the game to be enjoyed by the next generation," said Frank Rutan, a friend of Mr. Walsh for 35 years. "He felt very strongly about the qualities that were important to the game."

In 2008, Mr. Walsh was awarded the GAP Distinguished Service Award, given to a person who "exemplifies the spirit of the game at its highest level and who has made a substantial contribution to the game at the Philadelphia, national, or international level."

"He understood the values that the game of golf provided in life," said GAP executive director Mark Peterson. "That's probably what fueled his desire to keep giving back to the game. He had that charisma about him, that welcoming smile that always made you feel good when you talked to him."

Mr. Walsh also was involved with Villanova, the Malvern Retreat House, and Retired Senior Volunteer Personnel of Montgomery County.

In addition to his widow and sons, Mr. Walsh is survived by daughters Stephanie Beilman, Minna Wood, Bridget Davis, Monica, Therese Seiberlich, Hilary Murray, Maura Burke, and Alexandra Nelson; sons Michael, Matthew, Timothy, Daniel, and Brendan; a brother; a sister; 29 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

A Funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Friday, Dec. 27, at St. Thomas of Villanova Church on the university campus. Visitation at the church will be Thursday, Dec. 26, from 3 to 9 p.m. and from 9 to 11 a.m. next Friday.

Donations may be made to the J. Wood Platt Caddie Scholarship Fund, 1974 Sproul Rd., Suite 400, Broomall, Pa. 19008; Layman's Retreat League, c/o Malvern Retreat House, Attn: William T. Walsh Scholarship Fund, Box 315, Malvern, Pa. 19355; or Amigos de Jesus, 126 Woodland Ave., Malvern, Pa. 19355.