Walters remembered for his fight, passion

By HEATHER NELLIS

Recorder News Staff

A man as tough as his Belgian Draft horses, Montgomery County Board of Supervisors Chairman and Charleston Supervisor Shayne T. Walters rose above the pain of cancer for nine months to answer the call of duty.

The 49-year-old succumbed to his illness Monday morning, passing away hours after an ambulance brought him to a Cooperstown hospital late Sunday afternoon.

But right up to the end, Walters worked for his town and his county, even as late as Oct. 2, when he met other members of the Audit Committee to review the county's books.

"There were some days he could barely walk, but he'd still be there," said St. Johnsville town Supervisor Dominick Stagliano.

"He was a fighter," said Florida town Supervisor William Strevy. "And he'd fight tooth and nail for something he believed in."

Walters' mother, Charleston town Justice Jean Walters, has always described her youngest son as a champion, she said.

And based on the outpouring of tributes from the grieving community that's described him as the same, she thinks she was right.

"If you were in a war, you couldn't have a better patriot to drum up an army. If you had a cause, a righteous cause, and he had a reason to fight for you, he was there on the front-line," Jean Walters said. "And not just there, he came riding in on his horse, with his armor on and his sword out, and you had better get out of the way."

His character might be best exemplified when Charleston's hamlet of Burtonville was the target of the Schoharie Creek's rage during the summer flooding events of 2011 --the water washed away homes, and badly damaged others.

All Shayne Walters needed was a telephone and his passion -- he persuaded every federal and state official he could reach to come to the hamlet so they could see the constituency's pain and its need for help.

"Some of these people had nothing left, and he stepped up to do everything he could," said Root town Supervisor John Thayer.

Not to mention Walters' work to drum up support for a project to remove the literal tons of stone and debris deposited by the flooded creek. It amounted to a $630,000 project that Walters asked his fellow supervisors to approve for financing, and they obliged.

"He told the story, and the board listened, and responded," Strevy said. "The county doesn't know if it will be reimbursed for that project or not, and considering these fiscal times, the board came on to support it, and that ought to tell you a little something about Shayne Walters."

Jean Walters said doctors believe he died of an infection in his stomach likely caused by the most recent round of chemotherapy treatments.

His success through the first series of chemotherapy led most to believe Walters would make a full recovery, so his death came as quite a shock to most, including Glen town Supervisor Lawrence Coddington.

"I hadn't seen him in two weeks," Coddington said, "but this whole thing was a total shock to me. From the conversations we'd had, I thought he was doing quite well. That said, the county is going to miss him. He'd gone above and beyond the job description. No one could have done more."

Montgomery County paused Tuesday to grieve the sudden death of its leader -- committee meetings were rescheduled for next week, flags flown at half-staff.

Walters was diagnosed with colon cancer just as he was chosen to lead the county board, and he'll remain the chairman through his memorial services. Thayer, the vice chairman, said out of respect for his friend and colleague, he won't schedule the special meeting to transfer the chairmanship to another supervisor until the services are complete.

Walters was first elected Charleston's supervisor in late 2003. His main focus as a politician was described as that of an advocate for services not mandated by the state -- agricultural economic development, plowing, mowing and paving projects by the Department of Public Works, public safety from the sheriff's office, the county's Soil and Water Conservation District.

"He thought those were the things people got the most bang for their taxpaying buck, rather than the things they had no control over," Strevy said. "He was a strong individual. I wish he could have served as chairman under different circumstances so he could have enjoyed it, because he had a lot of unenjoyable times this year."

Strevy said he first got to know Walters when Strevy served on the board of the Montgomery-Otsego-Schoharie Solid Waste Authority.

"I'd drive by his home on the way back, and I'd often stop to talk to him and his family," Strevy said. "He'd show me around his garage, show me different projects he had going on, and he'd share his stories about his time as a trucker and a logger. I always enjoyed myself very much."

Coddington also knew Walters outside of the supervisors chambers in Fonda -- Coddington used to ride the school bus with Walters' older brother, Michael.

They shared career interests, as Coddington ran a Fultonville saw mill and Walters was the proprietor of Backwoods Horse Logging, utilizing his ton-heavy Belgian Draft horses to drag timber from the depths of forests.

"It was one of the things he loved, and so did I," Coddington said. "After the supervisors meetings, people thought we sat and talked politics, but we were really talking about logging."

Walters' business website has a series of videos that show off the skills of his Belgian Drafts, the species best known for their ability to pull monumental weight.

"He loved his horses, and loved to show them at the Fonda Fair," Coddington said. "I remember running into him there this year, with his family, and the conversation we had. He was a good friend."

But the videos also share a glimpse into Walters' personality, sense of humor and musical ability. In one video, he plays a fiddle while his foot taps on the working drum of a chainsaw-carved figurine.

Jean Walters said her son played all the music at the family's parish, the Randall Christian Church on Route 5S. He also had a love of antique cars and motorcycles, and even won an award in Michigan for a motorcycle mountain climber contest, which awarded whoever made it to the top in the fastest amount of time.

"When I saw the film, I almost died, but he was just one of those people who was confident he could do anything, and wasted no time in doing it," Jean Walters said.

Jean Walters said two memorial services have been tentatively scheduled this weekend, the pair to reflect the number of people her son knew from both Montgomery and Schoharie counties.

On Friday night, tentatively scheduled for 5 p.m., a service will be held at the Langan Funeral Home, 327 Main St., Schoharie. A Saturday afternoon service at the Randall Christian Church has also been scheduled, tentatively starting at 1 p.m.

Details are expected to be finalized today.