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Melody Walker, former public radio producer and STLPR reporter, has died

Melody Walker, a middle-aged white woman with short light-brown hair, poses for a portrait and wears a dark coat and wire-rimmed glasses.
Provided by John Barth
Melody Walker, photographed at the NYU Academic Center in France in 2006. She worked in public radio for decades, including at St. Louis Public Radio as a reporter.

Longtime public radio reporter and producer, wonderful friend, loving mother, sister and partner Melody Walker died of cancer at home on March 4.

She was 62 and lived in the Central West End neighborhood in St. Louis.

Walker came from many generations of pioneering Midwestern reporters and publishers. She started reporting at age 10 for her father, Hayes Walker III, who published the cattle magazine, The Hereford Journal.

She became a radio reporter in Kansas City at 16.

Walker graduated from Barnard College with a degree in philosophy and, as a student, was asked by CBS veteran Fred Friendly to work with him on a PBS series. She ran the news department at WKCR, Columbia University’s radio station, supervising a team of 40 reporters. She did everything from covering the UN General Assembly to producing live jazz broadcasts from clubs in the Morningside Heights neighborhood.

Walker had a distinctive, award-winning career in public radio. As soon as she graduated from Barnard, she took her fluency in French and her journalism skills to Europe.

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Provided by John Barth
As a reporter for NPR in France, Walker covered a spate of terrorist bombings in Paris in the 1980s.

In the early 1980s, Walker reported from Paris for NPR, Deutsche Welle and Radio France, among others. She covered terrorist attacks, French politics, the champagne business, the 40th anniversary of D-Day and the Cannes Film Festival.

While there, she was discovered by a film producer and cast to play Joan of Arc in a TV movie. Walker also produced various jazz and classical concerts in the U.S. and Europe for distribution by Ofreidia, a French production company.

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Provided by John Barth
Walker produced the "Lenny Lopate Show" at WNYC and also covered political stories as a reporter.

Walker returned to the United States and became the lead producer of the "Lenny Lopate Show" at WNYC.

In 1989, she was hired as the New York and, subsequently, Chicago bureau chief for the public radio business program "Marketplace." During that time, she had her two kids, Kyle and Blair, whom she subsequently raised in Chicago, Paris, New York and St. Louis.

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Provided by John Barth
Walker in summer 2021 with her partner, John Barth (left), daughter, Blair O'Brien (center left) and son, Kyle O'Brien.

“Melody was a gifted journalist with great storytelling skills and a sense of humor that brought a twinkle to the eyes and ears of everyone who enjoyed her reporting,” recalled founding "Marketplace" Executive Producer Jim Russell. “I remember best her colorful reporting from France — hearing her was nearly as good as being there oneself.”

Walker also wrote and produced commentaries for Charles Osgood, the renowned personality at CBS Radio. She took pride in her one-on-one interviews with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos; Thomas Watson, the then-CEO of IBM, and publisher Malcolm Forbes.

In St. Louis, Walker handled marketing communication for St. Louis University and the Olin Business School at Washington University.

She returned to public radio briefly in 2018 as the business and economic development reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.

Melody Walker wears red eye glasses and large over-ear headphones and speaks into a St. Louis Public Radio microphone in a radio studio.
Evie Hemphill
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Walker, St. Louis Public Radio’s former economic development reporter, joined "St. Louis on the Air" as a guest in November 2018.

She balanced her professional accomplishments with civic duty. Walker was an officer and board member for the Central West End Association and STL Village, an aging-in-place service and advocacy organization.

Walker loved France and all things French, Halloween, dinner parties, perfect croissants, champagne, the Missouri Botanical Garden, maintaining her own garden and greenhouse, spying rabbits and butterflies. She was happiest in Paris and New York City.

She is survived by her two children, Kyle Walker O’Brien of Paris and Blair Walker O’Brien of Manhattan; her partner, John Barth of St. Louis; her mother, Claudette; and her sister, Hayley, and brother- in-law Jack Rees of Kansas City. And, also Cooper, of Manhattan, the only dog she ever liked.

Her family says loved ones can honor her life with donations to STL Village or the Missouri Botanical Garden.

A celebration of Walker's life will occur in June.

This remembrance was written by John Barth, Melody Walker's partner and a veteran of public and commercial radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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