Pacific Beverage boss Johnny Walker remembered in unusual obituary

Mr John Jackson "Johnny" Walker, chairman of Pacific Beverages.
Mr John Jackson "Johnny" Walker, chairman of Pacific Beverages.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/JOHNNY WALKER

SINGAPORE - The obituary of Mr Johnny Walker, which appeared on Wednesday (Nov 23), spoke of a man who lived large.

Spanning about 800 words, which is unusual in Singapore for an obituary, it gave an account of the life of Mr Walker, who was well known in the nightlife and food & beverage business here.

Mr Walker, who founded Pacific Beverages, suddenly collapsed on his birthday on Oct 23, most likely due to a heart attack. He died on Oct 24, at age 51.

Written by close friends Patrick MacMahon and Miles Fenley, the obituary which took up half a page in The Straits Times, said: "John Jackson 'Johnny' Walker lived life at a break-neck speed but, somehow, left no one behind."

Mr MacMahon, also 51, told The Straits Times that Mr Walker's father, Richard, asked him and Mr Fenley to write it, as they had known Mr Walker from the time they came to work in Singapore in the early 1990s.

Mr Richard Walker, who is in his 80s, wanted a "British-style" obituary for his son, a tribute which told people something of his son's life.

Mr Walker, who was born in Pretoria in South Africa, had also lived in Hong Kong, Switzerland and Beijing, the obituary said.

After arriving in Singapore in 1991, he worked briefly at Zouk, and was general manager of the Emerald Hill Group.

He helped to develop the three bars, No 5, Que Pasa and Ice-Cold Beer, in the group.

In December 1996, he set up drinks distributor Pacific Beverages with Mr Lian Ee Shin.

"He was tremendously charismatic," said Mr MacMahon to The Straits Times. But they only found out how generous he was after he died, said the theme park and rides designer.

Various charity groups reached out to his family and friends after his death, Mr MacMahon said, and the Knights of Malta sent a representative to his wake.

Two friends from the Wanderers Rubgy Club, which he helped found, also wrote in the obituary that Mr Walker's largesse was "legendary".

Mr Clive Lim, general manager of sales and marketing for the company, told The Straits Times that Mr Walker, who was unmarried, thought of his employees as his children.

His boss lent money to friends in financial difficulty or to start their own businesses "without questioning them much", said Mr Lim, 37.

When they wanted to return the money that was not a large amount, he said 'donate it to charity'," he said.

Each year, Mr Walker planned a trip for about 50 staff in the company, from the management to the gardener.

From Nepal to Taipei, to Laos, he would introduce them to new experiences, Mr Lim said.

But Mr Walker died before the Laos trip, which was planned for November this year.

Earlier this year, another unusual obituary in The Straits Times went viral on social media.

The candid poem by Mr Ong Tiong Yeow, about his father Ong Peck Lye, was shared on Facebook and quickly caught the attention of Singaporeans.

Obituary of Pacific Beverage chairman John Jackson "Johnny" Walker in The Straits Times on Nov 23, 2016. 

Correction note: The story was edited for clarity.