For the past 42 years Kenneth Royd Walker II has cut a wide swath in the field of emergency medical services … to say the least. What this man has done for our community, and where and how he’s done it, conjures up an old saying – “It’ll flat out blow your mind.”
You may not recognize the names Kenneth Walker or Royd Walker.
But you may recognize the name of today’s Our Town Hero – Rocky Walker.
Wrap your arms around this:
- 23 years as a flight paramedic and flight nurse for Lifestar at the University of Tennessee Medical Center and base manager for its operations at the Sevierville Airport;
- 16 years as a volunteer at what was the Knoxville Volunteer Emergency Rescue Squad as a shift supervisor, technical rescue team leader, dive rescue specialist, structural, trench, confined space, cave rescue and mountain rescue pro;
- Recovery room and emergency room nurse at UT;
- Level III firefighter and paramedic for Rural Metro for 14 years;
- Three years at Martin Marietta in Oak Ridge as a paramedic;
- Rural Metro paramedic on ambulances for 11 years; and
- Three years working on ambulances for the old East Tennessee Emergency Medical Services company.
“Sometimes I didn’t know which uniform I was wearing,” he says.
But there’s more still … 15 years and counting as a paramedic at Thompson-Boling Arena for sports, concerts and other events plus UT softball, baseball and soccer; and for the past eight years as the medical director for all Honor Air flights taking veterans to Washington, D.C.
And before all of this he spent three years as a manager and employee at the old Smoky Mountain Market at Cedar Bluff, and that had something to do with his future.
“The ambulance guys, firefighters and cops would come in for hot dogs. I’d listen to their stories and that got me interested,” he said. “The rescue squad had a truck that stayed at I-40 and Cedar Bluff and they came in, too. That led to me joining the rescue squad’s Explorer Post during my senior year at Bearden High School.” That was back in 1979.
Along the way, in 1988, he married his wife, Cindy, and they have a daughter, Sierra Walker McDaniel. She is a nurse in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. “Talking about Sierra brings back memories of delivering three babies during my career,” he said.
Rocky is 59. On March 15, three weeks ago today, this slim, trim and fit fellow had a pacemaker inserted. He was diagnosed with carotid sinus hypersensitivity, which causes your heart to slow and may cause a drop in blood pressure.
He had four episodes of passing out. On Christmas Day 2019 he was driving down Pellissippi Parkway going about 70 when he passed out. Beside him in the front seat was his mother, 80-year-old Weja Walker, who lives next door to their Maryville home. “Cindy was in the backseat and Mom grabbed the steering wheel and found the brake somehow and pulled us over to the side of the road,” he says. “We were lucky.”
After two more spells at home, his doctor made the diagnosis and put in the pacemaker. And he has slowed down. “That’s hard for a strong Type A guy like me,” he says. “I’m still off work and can’t drive yet.”
Even before this happened, he’s had his eye on the date of July 1, 2022. “That’s when I’ll retire and walk away and Cindy and I will be on the road traveling. That 25-foot travel trailer will be busy,” Rocky said. “We love to travel. I will say that if a grandbaby were to come along, we’d delay the traveling.”
He has flown thousands of missions for Lifestar and touched the lives of thousands of people who needed him during his long career. The rescue squad made him an honorary member in 1995. In 2015 the Region II EMS Directors Association presented him with its Lifetime Achievement Award.
“God put me where I am today. He gifted me with the right disposition and ability to stay calm in the middle of chaos,” he said. “Saving lives. I was drawn to it, driven to do it. I could not have done all of this without the Good Lord – and her (nodding his head towards Cindy).”
Rocky has a list of what he calls “the four F’s” that sustain him to this day and helped him deal with the ups and downs of a tough career. “We see things and deal with things no one else wants to see,” he said. Then he rattles them off – Faith, Family, Friends and Fun.
“Hey, I’m fun just waiting for a place to happen,” he says.
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. He writes this Monday column – Our Town Heroes – for KnoxTNToday.com. Suggest future stories at [email protected] or call him at 865-659-3562.