Okay, Ernie, it’s taken me ten years to get here, and even now it isn’t easy to think or write about you without tears, but as we approach the tenth anniversary of your death I think it’s time to add my own memories of you.
You were born on a snowy day in the Wasatch Mountains of northern Utah and in the knitted cap they pulled down over your ears you looked like a little Nordic fisherman. You were a good baby, an easy baby but eager to get on with life, as though you knew it would be too short.
By the time you were two-and-a-half you knew every letter of the alphabet in both upper and lower case. You were reading at a seventh grade level by the time you were six. Once, to my surprise, you sat through the entire Dinah Shore show only to turn to me afterwards and announce resentfully: “I watched the whole show and I didn’t see a single dinosaur!”
You were a compulsive writer. I always knew what was on your mind because of notes I found around the house. One of the early ones read: “Drink H2O as needed.”
You were a National Merit Scholarship finalist and were accepted into the University of Utah right from your junior year in high school. They didn’t want anybody else to have you!
You went through the seventies, sullen and long-haired, in a haze of pot. I knew you’d come through it because you had grown up a “phase” child, thoroughly exhausting everything that sparked your interest before moving on to something new. And in time…..
…..you found your spiritual side and served a two year Mormon mission in Central America where they called you “Chon-Boy” Walton because of the earth shoes you were wearing. Your converts felt sorry for you and bought you a shiny new pair of shoes from Sears.
You came home and earned a Magna Cum Laude degree. You had a strong work ethic and worked at everything from typing to teaching piano until your breakthrough in Hollywood. You received a Writers Guild nomination for the first script you ever sold. You were elected to their board of directors.
You married beautiful Cheryl and didn’t waste any time building a family: five kids, several cats, a dog and a parrot named Tasha who learned how to imitate your car alarm.
You wrote and produced several tv series, traveled, bought bigger and bigger houses with bigger and bigger pools and always drove the best cars. You were an early believer in computers. You wrote the first screenwriting program used in Hollywood and were the first to computerize a show. You invested in Microsoft before most people knew what it was.
On the side you were a basketball fan with season tickets to the Laker games. As your sons grew and became interested in the sport your life revolved more and more around basketball and your television career began to take a back seat.
In coaching you earned the love and admiration of your teams and the entire community. And then –- a fall, a limp that wouldn’t go away and a deadly diagnosis. You went online, googled your symptoms and knew before doctors told you that you were going to die of ALS. The day of the official diagnosis you announced that you were taking the family to Disney World. And you did.
You kept on coaching as long as you could, graduated from a cane to a wheelchair, all the while going to games and church and movies and doing more laughing than complaining. ALS closed in around you, taking movement and speech but never humor and love and optimism.
You died the day before my seventy-fifth birthday, and I experienced it as a gift, freeing you from what you once described as being “buried in sand up to my neck.”
You were not perfect. You could be a terrible slob. You were maddeningly obsessive, absent-minded, and sometimes brutally frank. You could blow your top. But somehow, while living an ordinary life – well, maybe not so ordinary – you inspired family and friends and a whole community.
You were always just my kid, often annoying, so you’ll have to forgive me if it came as a surprise that your life made such a difference to so many people and that now, ten years later, your memory continues to inspire.
We’re going to beat ALS, Ernie, I promise you. We’re a part of this production. And we’re all on your team.
With love and laughter,