We mourn the loss of our long-time President, JOK Walsh.
JAMES OWEN KNOTTS (JOK) WALSH of Denton, MD passed away on Thursday, July 13, 2023, at Maryland MICU Hospital in Baltimore. The former Attorney, President of Caroline County Historical Society, Economic Development Director and Coast Guard Vietnam veteran was 75 years old.
Born in Tucson, Arizona where his late father, Capt. Quentin R. Walsh, Sr. was recuperating from disabilities incurred in World War II, Walsh was a resident of Denton from the age of two. His late mother was the former Mary Ann Knotts from a 300-year-old Eastern Shore family.
JOK spoke fondly of his childhood and all the youthful escapades he and his Denton friends engaged in. Including being one of the “Denton Boys” a wild, joyful bunch! After graduating from North Caroline High School (1965), and after attending University of Maryland College Park, Walsh decided he needed a break, so he and a fellow Denton classmate left for St. John’s Island in the Caribbean and spent a year on the Island enjoying life. JOK said his love of history and telling stories really began on St. John’s, camping on the beach, (the Mamas and the Papas had just departed), he learned about the area and started earning money offering tours to tourists who were curious about the area, tooling his clients to sites in a newly purchased old jeep. He managed to do very well.
JOK joined the Coast Guard in 1968 and served almost two years aboard the icebreaker USCG Southwind. After having circumnavigated the globe, reaching ports in both Artic and Antarctic, South America, Africa, New Zealand, and others, Walsh asked to be transferred to Vietnam for dangerous Mobile Riverine Force duty which was tasked with patrolling the waters of the Mekong Delta and at Cat Lo, earning the Navy Commendation Medal with Valor and the Republic of Vietnam Medal with Bronze Star for combat action while serving on the USCG Cutters Point Marone and Point Welcome. Later in life JOK became a member of the Coast Guard Combat Veterans Association where he found much enjoyment in their company.
After his discharge in 1974, as an E-5 BM2 (Boatswains Mate), Walsh attended Salisbury University and earned a BA in History. Back in Denton, he became active with the Jaycees, beautifying downtown Denton with trees, ornamental lighting, and painting downtown business exteriors, removing billboards etc.. He was a working member of the Denton Fire Department for several years, and an active member of the young Democrats. He earned a Juris Doctor degree at the University of Baltimore School of Law. And for a short time, worked in the law office of his uncle ‘Jimmy’ James Owen Knotts, III, but soon realized that his preference was to grow businesses.
Walsh was an Economic Development professional working for various not-for–profits from 1982-2013 when he retired. While earning many awards, he often said his biggest achievement was to “go beyond” the typical three–categories of Economic Development which are business attraction, business expansion and business retention. He would say I like the challenge of (1) growing entirely new companies; (2) problem-solving; (3) agricultural diversification; (4) commercial, small business development limited to abandoned historic districts; and (5) infrastructure development. He would say that he liked the challenges of …. Which is why he was so successful in running a five-county Chesapeake Country Economic Development (1982-1998) and Caroline County Economic Development Corp. (2001-2013).
Along with his professional career, Walsh was always involved with volunteering in the community. He found his niche in history and was elected President of Caroline County Historic Society in 1987. J.O.K. made it his mission to preserve the history, stories and if possible, structures within the County. Under his leadership, 47 structures were restored with many serving as tourist destination sites. There was no limit to the subjects that he researched, documented and presented to the public regarding the county history: to include, but certainly not limited to Indians, railroads, shipbuilding, vessels, agriculture, archaeology, World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam, stories of local men & women, preserving oral histories/stories, and creating a Museum of Rural Life for the public; Starting from scratch with his friend, former Maryland archivist, Pat Guida, who, since 1989, together has uncovered important African-American history, documenting and sharing their findings to benefit countless African-American projects. This research allowed him to make significant contributions to the creation of the National Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway. Spearheading projects to preserve and interpret sites along this now Federal All-American Road. JOK was so proud of preserving Caroline County’s history and would tell anyone so.
Words that best describe Walsh’s adult life: Country, Friends, Community, and Preservation of the County’s history and structures.
Mr. Walsh is survived by his sister, Bronwyn W. Zolper (Bill) of Rehoboth Beach, DE; four nephews: Carl William Zolper III (Kelly), Matthew Zolper (Gia), Casey Zolper (Jaime), and Patrick Zolper (Susan); and 11 great nieces and nephews.
JOK’s companion, Kathy Mackel, worked closely with him on all the projects and opened a new life of travel abroad. Creating many fun trips, Kathy gave JOK what he always asked for…. “The best day of his life”. A hard task to fulfill!
A Celebration of Life and reception is planned beginning at 12:00 o’clock p.m. on Sunday, September 17th at the Caroline Country Club 24826 Pealiquor Rd. in Denton where friends may visit, drink, share stories and enjoy a lite lunch.
In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the Caroline County Historical Society at P.O. Box 514, Denton, MD 21629