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George K. Walker, 95; ushered in change as Boston postmaster

paul connell/globe staff/file 1974

As postmaster, Mr. Walker bought stamps in a new section of the John W. McCormack Building in Post Office Square.

When a US postal inspector came to the Watertown Square post office one day back in the 1950s, he found branch supervisor George K. Walker out front washing windows and wondered aloud what a boss was doing outside with a squeegee.

Mr. Walker had a simple explanation: All the work inside was finished.

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“That was my dad,’’ said Mr. Walker’s youngest son, Neal, recounting a story Mr. Walker liked to tell his sons. “He was always taking on more.’’

Mr. Walker, a career postal employee who worked his way up to become postmaster of Boston and district manager of Eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, died Jan. 7 in Life Care Center of America in Scituate following a period of failing health. He was 95 and most recently lived in Duxbury, after previously residing in Lexington and Watertown.

He started as a substitute postal clerk earning 65 cents an hour in 1941. With the exception of two years spent in the Army during World War II, Mr. Walker was on the job with the Postal Service for 40 years.

As postmaster of Boston from 1970 to 1974, Mr. Walker oversaw major changes in protocol and labor negotiations after Congress turned the Postal Service into an independent agency under the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970.

Mr. Walker, a dapper man whose family said his only vice was perhaps his love of new suits, appeared at numerous public events, stoking a new image of postal employees.

He unveiled new stamps and led the Boston Postal District when it handled more than 6.4 billion pieces of mail annually, up from 1.5 billion in the 1950s, according to records.

“He was very even-keeled,’’ his son David said. “One of his former employees said his interpersonal skills were fabulous. He just knew how to handle every person, no matter what the situation.’’

In the months leading up to approval of the Postal Reorganization Act and President Nixon’s signing of the bill, Mr. Walker made clear where he stood.

He supported changes the act would bring, saying they would boost the morale of workers, and he had a sharp eye on the future.

“We need computers, intricate distributing machinery, and plants, not the old hand-sorting systems to handle the mail,’’ he told the Globe in 1970, a few months before Nixon signed the bill. “And we don’t have it.’’

Mr. Walker was also devoted to the American Legion. A member and commander of Watertown Post 99, he was elected state commander in 1959. He later became vice commander of the national organization.

According to his family, the phone at the Walker house rang often with people seeking help for a veteran. Mr. Walker would then work his vast network to assist. More than 500 people attended a dinner in his honor in May 1956 when he was the Legion’s Middlesex County commander, according to a Globe report from that time.

Every Memorial Day for decades, Mr. Walker volunteered to place flags on veterans’ graves.

Born in 1916, in Concord, N.H., Mr. Walker was raised by his mother in the Oak Square neighborhood of Brighton after his parents separated when he was a baby. He later graduated from Watertown High School.

Mr. Walker married his high school sweetheart, M. Lillian Desmond, in 1936. She died in 2004 at 88. They had four sons.

He built a summer cottage for his family in Marshfield in the late 1940s and dubbed it “Boys Town,’’ partly in honor of his favorite charity, which began in 1917 with the orphanage founded by the Rev. Edward Flanagan.

Mr. Walker dug the foundation for his summer place himself. He put up the walls and built the fireplace with stones gathered from the surrounding field.

“He never had that strong male figure in his life, but he certainly gave it to us,’’ David said.

Neal recalled getting into mischief with a cousin when young. His uncle punished his son with a belt, and Neal feared the same.

“My father beckoned me with his finger into a bedroom. He closed the door and he took his belt off,’’ Neal recalled, describing his rising fear of an imminent whipping. Mr. Walker, however, merely changed into shorts.

“All my father had to do was look at you and you knew he was not happy,’’ Neal said, adding that “there was something about my dad, you wanted him to be proud of you.’’

Mr. Walker, who spent many seasons as an American Legion baseball coach, taught the game to his sons.

“He’d take us down to Victory Field in Watertown and play with us forever,’’ said David, who later played in the minor leagues before becoming a lawyer.

In addition to his sons David, of Duxbury, and Neal of Concord, Mr. Walker leaves two other sons: George Jr. of Pismo Beach, Calif., and Leighton of Concord.

Later in life, Mr. Walker’s favorite holiday was probably the Fourth of July. He always supplied American flags for all of his descendants, who at his death included eight grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren.

Mr. Walker was buried next to his wife in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord.

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