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Obituaries

John Walton, 58; Billionaire Heir to Wal-Mart Fortune

June 28, 2005|From Times Wire Services

BENTONVILLE, Ark. — John Walton, billionaire son of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. founder Sam Walton and a member of the company's board, died Monday in a plane crash in Wyoming.

Walton, 58, of Jackson, Wyo., was piloting the ultralight craft that crashed shortly after takeoff from the Jackson Hole Airport in Grand Teton National Park, the company said. He was pronounced dead at the scene, and the cause of the afternoon crash was not known, officials said.

The plane was an experimental ultralight aircraft equipped with a small gasoline-powered engine and wings wrapped in fabric similar to heavy-duty sailcloth, officials said.

In March, Forbes magazine listed John Walton as No. 11 on its list of the world's richest people, with a net worth of $18.2 billion. He was tied with his brother Jim, one spot behind his brother Rob and just ahead of his sister, Alice, and his mother, Helen.

John Walton joined the board of Wal-Mart in 1992 but did not work for the company.

"We're sad that John Walton, who was well known and much loved in this valley, died doing something that he loved to do, which was fly aircraft," said Joan Anzelmo, a spokeswoman for Grand Teton National Park.

"I saw parts of it," she said. "I didn't realize what I was seeing at first. It was so lightweight it looked like a giant model airplane."

Anzelmo said officials notified the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

"Because this is a homemade, nonregistered, experimental aircraft, at least today they told us there was not going to be an investigation," she said. Grand Teton rangers will conduct their own probe, as is done with any major accident in the park, she said.

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman, Mona Williams, said the company notified its employees worldwide of Walton's death.

Walton was an Army veteran who served with the Green Berets as a medic during the Vietnam War. He was awarded the Silver Star for saving the lives of several members of his unit while under enemy fire, the company said. He attended the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, and served as a board member of the Walton Family Foundation.

In 1998, Walton, Forstmann Little & Co. co-founder Ted Forstmann and former Walt Disney Co. President Michael Ovitz created a $200-million scholarship fund to help low-income students attend private and parochial schools in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Washington.

He also contributed to various California political causes, including school voucher campaigns and charter schools. Walton had also been a significant contributor to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's political campaigns.

The company said Walton pursued a variety of business interests, including working as a crop-duster in the 1970s and building boats in the 1980s. More recently, he had formed a holding company, True North Partners, to oversee various business interests.

In addition to his mother and three siblings, Walton is survived by his wife, Christy, and son, Luke.

Associated Press and Bloomberg News were used in compiling this report.

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