He was almost a priest.
It’s strange to think about now. Now that Jim Walker is happily married with six kids.
Growing up in Oxford, Michigan — then a one-traffic light town — Jim is from a devout family. One that knew tragedy.
When he was five, his fourth-eldest sister passed away from a rare lung disease. His brother was diagnosed as well, spending years being fed by a tube and sleeping in an oxygen tank, and doctors said he would die as well. But he didn’t. Walker, assisting as his caretaker, saw it all up-close from a young age.
Learning to accept suffering peacefully was, in part, what prompted him to consider a call to the priesthood. The son of a football coach, he went to Hope College to play defensive back and study physics. Injuries, student loans and a maturing faith prompted him to transfer to a seminary.
God had other plans, however. And so did the young woman who would become his wife.
“Kelly and I were raised in the same small town. Our older siblings married each other. We dated when I was at Hope,” he said. “After I left seminary, we started dating again, got engaged, and decided to serve the church another way.”
During the engagement, the two became missionaries; he was stationed in Dallas, and she went to Atlanta.
“That’s how I first started working with donors,” Walker said. “We needed money for a project, and I was able to secure a few commitments from people who wanted to help.” A few years later, he was asked to run a school near Dallas, as its chief executive.
From there, he served a variety of religious, cultural and civic institutions.
“My job is to connect people of means to people with needs. To amplify the voice of donors who make game-changing investments,” he said.
In 2015, the ex-athlete came to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, where he is now the vice president for advancement. He says it’s a special place because of its mission and leadership, and the team he’s privileged to lead, with its diverse sets of skills and abilities.
“Policy changes have ability to affect millions of lives almost instantaneously, but the changes often take years to achieve,” he said. “The state’s right-to-work law, our win at the Michigan Supreme Court (in a case concerning Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders), all of the victories — they don’t happen without our donors investing in ideas and doing so for the long run. They’re not only generous but persevering.”
Walker loves his job because, as he says, “generous people are happy people. Our donors give freely to make the world, and Michigan in particular, a better place for all people. The main return on their investment is knowing they’ve done something to help others.”
Above all, he is a family man. He learned to prioritize family from the example of his own parents. He has five living siblings, and his mom is expecting grandchild number 27 soon.
“And we all get together almost every Sunday. When my dad was living, he referred to it as a piece of heaven.”