Ralph Waite of “The Waltons” passed on to a higher mountain this last Thursday, February 13, 2014. He was 85 years old.
I can’t say enough about the loss of Ralph Waite, best know as John Walton, Sr. of the Walton family. He was to me the ultimate father figure in the show “The Waltons” which aired on CBS from 1972 to 1981. Many who knew Ralph and watched the show said he was like the father they never had and for some, they even called him Dad.
“The Waltons” was an American TV series created by Earl Hamner, Jr. based on his book “Spencer’s Mountain”, and a 1963 film of the same name. It is about a family in the Blue Ridge mountains of rural Virginia during the Great Depression around 1933 to 1946. Despite raising seven children in such trying times, the family always managed to find time for one another and there was always plenty of love.
The story was initially centered around the oldest son, John Walton, Jr.or John Boy (played by Richard Thomas), his parents John and Olivia Walton and their seven children along with John’s parents Zebulon “Zeb” and Esther Walton. Each show was narrated by middle-aged John Jr. and voiced by author Earl Hamner on whom John-Boy was based. Ralph played the father who put in long hours at the lumber mill to provide for his growing Christian family.
Mary McDonough, who played daughter Erin Walton is quite devastated by Ralph’s passing saying he was like a real father to her. She said, “I loved him so much; I know he was so special to all of us. He was like a real father to me. Goodnight Daddy. I love you.”
After high school he joined the Marines and served from 1946 to 1948. He attended Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA where he met Beverly Hall, whom he married in 1951. Growing tired of county bureaucracy, he sought purpose in religion, a reversal of his belief in college that secular philosophy was sufficient. He later entered Yale Divinity School earning a master’s degree and was ordained a Presbyterian minister serving congregations at Fishers Island, off Long Island, and in Garden City, N.Y.
Being upset with the hypocrisy of the Church, he went to work for Harper & Row editing religious books which did not satisfy him either. It was during this time that he began drinking too much and alcohol was a problem for him until the mid 1970s. Later on, he quit drinking on his own and soon after got a job as an understudy in an Off Broadway production of Jean Genet’s “The Balcony.” By the end of its six month run, he had played all the major roles.
Waite was married three times, two marriages ending in divorce. He had three daughters from his first marriage. His eldest daughter, Sharon Waite, died of leukemia when she was nine years old in 1964. A stepson, Liam Waite, is also an actor.
The “Waltons” was a show that everyone could relate to especially those that suffered through the depression. For many, it was like a second family or for some, the only family they ever had. I’ve never seen so many heart-broken about Ralph’s passing.
In the show, he was an understanding, compassionate loving Father and yet stern when he had to be. The family always ended their day with their “good nights” that rang throughout the house. This was a favorite part of the show to many viewers.
I could go on and on telling you about the community that surrounded the Waltons on Walton’s mountain but that would take way too much time. But if you are like the majority of people I know, you already know and have seen numerous episodes that you have the fondest memories of.
Waite appeared last year in episodes of the series “NCIS,” in which he played the dad of star Mark Harmon’s character. He also appeared in “Bones” and “Days of Our Lives.”
As we say good-by to one of the best actresses and men of all time, we go back in time once again to a family we loved and for some, hungered for. Good Night!
THANKSGIVING AT THE WALTONS
Alden a fan commented:
I loved watching The Waltons when I was growing up in the ’70s. I remember I could hardly wait for the next weeks’ episode to air. I have always felt I would have been very happy growing up and living during The Great Depression. Watching the way John and Olivia interacted with the children and Grandma and Grandpa was wonderful. I must confess, my Dad(who is 82)and I still love watching the reruns. While watching the shows, I feel so much love and wish I could have been a part of the family (The Waltons). As for Earl Hamner, I have always loved his voice and would liked to have seen a picture of him. I wish children today could have had the experience of watching the show, but unfortunately people today do not take time to find good TV shows to sit and watch with their children. The Waltons will always be the best and my favorite TV show. Just this week, I picked up copies of Thanksgiving video and The Christmas Carol. Loved seeing them again. Both movies brought tears to my eyes. Wish I could have met all of the characters from the show…
Today, reruns still going strong on the Inspiration Channel, UP Channel, Hallmark Channel and others as well.
As a refresher this list of names just might job your memory of the Walton family:
John and Olivia Walton are the proud parents of three girls and five boys: John-Boy, Jason, Mary Ellen, Erin, Ben, twins Jim-Bob & Joseph, and Elizabeth; Joseph died at birth. Grandma and Grandpa Walton (Esther and Zeb) are John’s parents are also an integral part of the family. The series stars Richard Thomas, Michael Learned, Ralph Waite, Will
Geer, Ellen Corby, John Walmsley, Mary Beth McDonough, Eric Scott, Jody Morton, David Harper, Kami Cotler, and series creator Earl Hamner Jr. as the Narrator.
A comment by one of Ralph’s fans:
I’m sitting here sobbing. I’ll miss Ralph Weite’s wry interpretation of Gibbs’ father so much. He’s always been one of my favorite actors, as is Mark Harmon. Their work on NCIS has been so moving. Weite’s loss will leave such a hole, since Jackson Gibbs became such a presence in the show’s universe. It’s hard to believe he appeared in just eight episodes; Jackson Gibbs/Ralph Waite cast a long shadow. Condolences to his friends, family and colleagues; thanks for so many marvelous memories, Ralph. I was always a closet Waltons watcher, but I could relate to Weite’s character, since my late grandfather’s name was also John Walton. My grandparents used to receive crank calls from people saying, “Good night, John Boy.” Good night, sweet thespian prince.
Good night John-Boy, Good night Mary Ellen, Good night Erin, Good night Ben, Good night Jason,
Good night Elizabeth, Good night Jim Bob, Good night Grandma and Grandpa, Good night Olivia
And Good night dear friend “John Sr. – Dad!”