Hundreds of family members, friends and members of the Celtics organization gathered on May 5 to celebrate the life of Marblehead mom and Celtics VP Heather Walker, who passed away last month after a nearly two-year battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. She was 52.
“It’s ironic that we’re here to honor Heather right in the middle of the playoffs,” said Celtics team chaplain Rev. Robert Gray with a smile. “I think she pulled some strings.”
Several members of the Celtics front office filled the deck at the Eastern Yacht Club where the memorial was held. Tacko Fall, who played with the team from 2019 to 2021, came to pay respects. Celtics President Rich Gotham spoke about the day he was introduced to Walker at an event.
“She told me, ‘Oh, you have to hire me. I’d be perfect,’ And, in fact, she was. It’s true to say that the Celtics would never be the same.”
Walker worked with the Celtics as vice president of public relations for 16 years before her illness, partnering with players to promote the team. When the Celtics won the NBA championship in 2008, she grew especially close with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and James Posey. The team honored Walker as a “Hero Among Us” last year. In a game right after she died, Celtics players wore special T-shirts with a heart and Walker’s initials.
Gotham read remarks from several Celtics top brass, praising Walker for her kindness, warmth and energy.
“She was known as ‘Hurricane Heather,’” he said to laughs in the room.
Gotham also announced that the Celtics will name the team’s media room in Walker’s honor.
President Biden’s message
After her diagnosis, Walker and her family launched #Move4Heather, a campaign to raise awareness and funds for glioblastoma research at Dana-Farber. They raised nearly $650,000.
Walker met President Joe Biden when he came to Boston to speak about his Moonshot Initiative to reduce cancer deaths. Biden’s son also died of glioblastoma. At the memorial, Walker’s brother-in-law read aloud an email the family received from President Biden the night before.
“Jill and I would like to offer our condolences,” Biden wrote. “She reminded me of my son, Beau. She made it her mission to take care of everyone.”
Several other people spoke at the memorial, which ended with Walker’s husband, Stephen, and their two daughters at the podium.
“From the day I met Heather on the roof of the Colonnade Hotel at a Mix 98.5 pool party, I knew I was in for a ride,” he said, prompting more warm laughter from the crowd. “I was all in.”
Through tears, Stephen Walker described how his wife believed in “hard love,” caring for people fiercely and loyally.
Then, he addressed his two daughters at his side.
“I want you to know that she loved you so much. I know that her spirit will be with us forever because she is in you,” he said.
Finally, Stephen Walker addressed his wife. “I’ll cherish you forever. I’ll protect our girls with your hard love.”
And as the memorial wrapped up, the gray, cloudy skies cleared, making way for sunlight.
Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.