BENTONVILLE, Ark. (AP) - A memorial service is planned Monday for Helen Robson Walton, widow of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. Helen Walton died yesterday evening at her home in Bentonville at the age of 87.
The company said she was surrounded by family members when she died of natural causes, the news release said. Her eldest son Rob, chairman of Wal-Mart Stores Incorporated, said he and his brother and sister were proud of their mother and the life she led. He said she devoted much of her life to helping others, and to improving the quality of life in Northwest Arkansas.
A memorial service is planned for 1:30 p.m. Monday at First Presbyterian Church in Bentonville.
Helton Walton was born December 3, 1919, in Claremore, Oklahoma, a daughter of L.S. and Hazel Carr Robson. She graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in finance.
She met the man who would become her husband, Sam Walton, a native of Kingfisher, Oklahoma, in 1942 at Ardmore, Oklahoma, and the two were married on Valentine's Day 1943. Sam Walton died in 1992 at the age of 74.
After her husband fulfilled his military duties during World War II, the couple moved in 1945 to Newport, Ark. where they opened a Ben Franklin ``five-and-dime'' store. Five years later, they moved to Bentonville, where Sam Walton continued his career in retailing. In 1962, the Waltons opened the first Wal-Mart in nearby Rogers. Other stores followed, and the chain grew into the largest retailer in the world, but maintained its headquarters at Bentonville.
Members of the Walton family are listed each year among the world's wealthiest people. In March, Forbes magazine listed Helen Walton as the 29th richest individual in the world, with a fortune estimated at $16.4 billion. All three of her surviving children were ahead of her on that list.
Helen Walton was widely known in Arkansas for her philanthropy, focusing on education, the arts, and families and children. She also was very active at the local and national level in the Presbyterian Church.
She was president of the Walton Family Foundation when in 2002 it made a $300 million gift to the University of Arkansas. That donation that followed an earlier $50 million grant by the foundation to the university's Sam M. Walton School of Business.
She also set up the Walton Scholars program for the children of Wal-Mart employees, providing scholarships to 150 children annually.
She and her husband led the development of a program to bring students from Central America to three private Arkansas colleges to study. Approximately a thousand students have participated in the program since 1985, returning to their native countries to apply their learning and experience there.
The Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, Ark., has also benefited from having Helen Walton as a primary supporter. She has been a long-time financial supporter of the University of the Ozarks at Clarksville and chaired the university's board.
A son, John Walton, was killed in 2005 at the age of 58 when a homemade experimental plane he was flying crashed in Wyoming. She is survived by her eldest son, Rob Walton, as well as another son, Jim Walton, and a daughter, Alice Walton; plus eight grandchildren and four great- grandchildren.