After teaching government and history for more than 30 years to middle school students, John Walsh is getting an education of his own in county and state government.
It didn’t take him long to get involved after he moved to the Cape Region in 1997. He serves as vice president and lobbyist for the Delaware Manufactured Homeowners Association, serves on the governor’s advisory council for manufactured housing, is a member of the League of Women Voters and is an advocate and serves on the executive committee for the Delaware branch of the American Association of Retired Persons.
Through his volunteer efforts, he regularly meets with elected officials and testifies before county council and the General Assembly.
“I tend to drive people crazy, but that’s all right,” he says with a smile.
Plans are changed
Walsh, 69, had his retirement plans laid out in front of him as he moved from Philadelphia to Rehoboth Beach. “Lots of reading, listening to music and strolling The Boardwalk,” he said.
He was familiar with the area having spent time with family in the area since he was a boy. He said Sussex County is a special place with good people.
His pre-retirement planned schedule didn’t last two years. “I was going out of my mind; I had to do something,” he said.
He joined the homeowners’ association in Colonial East and eventually served as president for six years.
Although he calls himself a people person, as he was growing up in Philadelphia, he was afraid of everyone. It wasn’t until college that he broke out of his shell. “I went from being a mouse to being very vocal as I began to challenge authority. Part of it was the times – it was the ‘60s,” he said.
Walsh’s wife passed away in 1981; so he has been on his own ever since. As a self-professed curmudgeon, he says, he is pretty much set in his ways.
Better to not wear a collar
Walsh’s educational background includes six years in Catholic seminary, but he discovered that the life of a priest might not be his calling. “I figured I could do a lot of good not wearing a collar,” he said.
He left seminary with no real vocation goals in mind and fell into teaching because Philadelphia was desperate for teachers. Thinking he was going to be hired as a substitute because he didn’t have the required credits, he was hired full-time right away.
Walsh spent all of his more than 30 years in teaching at one school, John Paul Jones Middle School, where he taught history, government and geography to sixth-, seventh-, eighth- and even some ninth-graders.
“It was an age group desperately needing guidance and a role model,” he said.
During his career, he served as chairman of the social studies department for 21 years, was building representative for the teachers’ union and acting vice president and chairman of the school’s organization and scheduling committee.
Observing county government
Walsh says he has learned a lot when it comes to speaking before officials.
“If you let someone rattle you, you are giving them points and not getting any yourself,” he said. “It’s inevitable that some folks will try to rattle you, but many times they go into a battle of wits unarmed.”
That’s why, he says, it’s important to do your homework and be prepared and reasonable in what you say. “I’m a philosophy major. That prepared me for nothing, but it did help me organize my thoughts. I’m able to approach things logically and not just with pure passion,” he said.
Walsh has been a regular attendee at county council meetings for the past three years, and he doesn’t hold back when he comments on what he has witnessed.
“It’s still a good ol’ boy network,” he said. “People are not aware of the power the county government has over their lives.”
Walsh said it appears council would prefer people stay away. “Their attitude is, ‘How dare you ask a question on anything?’ That’s not the way government should be.”
Councilwoman Joan Deaver, D-Rehoboth Beach, nominated Walsh to serve on the county’s board of adjustment, but his nomination was voted down. “I knew there was no way it was going to happen,” he said.
The reason for the denial – Walsh calls it an excuse – was that he was a lobbyist for manufactured homeowners, which created a conflict of interest.
In his spare time, Walsh enjoys old movies – The Big Country is among his favorites – and he considers himself a science fiction aficionado – and, yes, he is a Star Trek fan. He is also a fan of the short-lived television show Firefly, now in reruns on The Science Channel.
Spare time is at a premium for this retiree who spends more time in Georgetown and Dover than he does strolling the boards in Rehoboth Beach.