Psychologist helped countless children with anxiety

A legacy for work on anxiety issues

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A clinical psychologist and research scientist who specialized in children’s anxieties, and who helped scores of people both young and old in his lifetime, has died.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/12/2018 (1502 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A clinical psychologist and research scientist who specialized in children’s anxieties, and who helped scores of people both young and old in his lifetime, has died.

Dr. John Walker died of pancreatic cancer on Friday. He was 69.

Walker was professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba Department of Clinical Psychology, Max Rady College of Medicine. Until his retirement in 2014, he was also director of the St. Boniface General Hospital anxiety disorders program.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES John Walker, clinical psychologist, will be remembered for his life’s work with children’s anxieties.

“Teachers know him, parents know him. I can’t even guess the number of children he’s helped over the years with anxiety, or the number of adults for that matter,” said Dr. Lesley Graff, U of M department head of clinical psychology.

He also trained generations of clinical psychologists.

“If you talk to almost any psychologist in Manitoba, they would have either worked with him or been trained by him or been to some presentation of his,” Graff said.

Walker went beyond his role as clinical psychologist and researcher by making it a mission to disseminate information to help as many people as possible, including setting up websites for parents of children with anxieties as well as for people dealing with depression.

He also helped found the Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba (ADAM) — a self-help group started in the mid-1980s, of which he was a board member for more than three decades — and the Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada.

He started the first anxiety disorder clinic in Manitoba at St. Boniface Hospital in 1984.

“He’s been quite proactive and comfortable speaking to any audience, from teachers to families to kids to media, with just that message that there are ways to get better and ways to intervene early and ease suffering,” Graff said.

Walker was a Winnipegger for most, if not all, his life. He spent his entire career at St. Boniface Hospital, except for a few years running a school psychology program.

He was always the picture of health, cycling to work every day except for perhaps the worst two weeks of winter. He attended the Winnipeg Folk Festival every year with either his children or grandchildren.

He was renowned for his generosity with his time, but also for his incredible energy, and was said to exist off five hours of sleep a night.

“People would get emails from him at 4:30 in the morning because he really didn’t need a lot of sleep,” said Dr. Lorne Sexton, a colleague in the clinical health psychology program at St. Boniface Hospital.

“His dedication was with an incredible amount of enthusiasm and joy. He was always smiling, always friendly, always warm,” said Sexton, who graduated with Walker in the 1970s and is the same age.

Walker’s reputation spreads well beyond Manitoba’s borders.

“You could go into any university department of psychology and mention John Walker’s name and people will know instantly who you’re talking about,” Sexton said.

After retiring from St. Boniface Hospital in 2014, he devoted himself full time to research, and kept up his pace even after he’d been diagnosed with cancer.

“He was literally still working on the clinical research up until a week and a half ago,” Graff said.

“He was literally working on his passion until he couldn’t anymore.”

He set up Coaching for Confidence, an online intervention program for parents of anxious children between the ages of four to 12. It is continuing and can be contacted by email at CoachingforConfidence@umanitoba.ca.

Walker also started up the website depression.informedchoices.ca. It will be continued by others, but may not be available at this time as they have been undergoing improvements.

“That’s just what John was about, is people both understanding what’s going on with their mental-health issues and what can you do about it,” Graff said.

He also set up mycolonoscopy.ca to help people with anxiety over the medical procedure and assist in lowering the high rate of last-minute cancellations with colonoscopies.

John was a very “family-focused” man, one colleague said.

After he was diagnosed with cancer, Walker and his family set up a fund for ADAM, whereby people could donate to its work treating anxiety.

It is under John Walker & Family Research Fund at website adam.mb.ca/donate.

John leaves his wife, Joan, and two grown children, and four grandchildren, three grandsons and a granddaughter.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Monday, December 17, 2018 10:01 AM CST: Corrects information about Dr. Walker's grandchildren

Updated on Friday, January 4, 2019 3:07 PM CST: adds honorifics, hyperlinks

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