Walter Minor Berwick (aka “Walt” and “Scotty”) died 15 April 2017, the day before CJ’s birthday. He was a hell’va man; he and CJ made a hell’va couple.
Born 1940 into a hard-scrabble, tumultuous family on the mean side of Philly, Walt developed street smarts and an amazingly grounded attitude about life and country. Out of high school in 1957 he joined the US Navy’s submarine service (diesel) but quit after his first hitch in 1961 to go to college. He reasoned that where he wanted to go in life started with a college education. With savings from the US Navy he entered Fairleigh Dickerson University, where he excelled. He was captain of the college’s basketball team and senior class president. While he got some scholarship monies to pay tuition (and keep a young wife and child fed and clothed) he made ends meet by driving a taxi downtown Philly. He graduated Fairleigh Dickerson in 1965 (and in 2009 received an Honorary Doctorate from his alma mater). He went back into the submarine service of the US Navy reserves as an Ensign and soon found himself at a cross roads. He was offered assignment to nuclear submarines by Admiral Rickover, the father of the US nuclear sub fleet, almost at the same time he was accepted into the clandestine corps of the CIA. He chose the CIA.
Over a twenty five year career he served around the world, though mostly as Chief of Stations in Latin America. His work was noted for a professional attention to detail but among his peers he was probably best known for his ability to write and brief clearly and persuasively, and for his friendliness. Back at Langley, he was popular, always smiling.
He had problems in his personal life - went through a couple/three wives during his CIA staff days. All these early marriages ended badly.
In 1990, single, he retired from working US espionage with a CIA grade equivalent of a 2 star general.
He had played center in college, and may have gotten elected class president because he had the chiseled good looks of a movie star. So big and handsome, fluent in Spanish, he got work as a hostage negotiator for kidnapping cases, and resolved several situation with hard work, mean street-smarts and finesse… when an old friend, the renown Miami lawyer/professor Bowman Brown introduced this almost bigger than life guy to a lady known throughout south Florida as “CJ” or “SeaJ.” They married in short order and as another clandestine corps operative said, “Walt lived the CIA dream, retired single, he met and a married a beautiful blond who owned a bar in Key Largo, Fl.” Well it’s more than a bar, it’s “the Fish House,” one of the biggest businesses on Key Largo because it’s crowded every night. And for good reason, food’s great, prices are reasonable, and the serve staff – in which there is almost no turn over – is absolutely professional. Plus this, the Fish House is almost as well known for its original Key Lime pie as it’s known as the best fish house in south Florida.
CJ and Walt bought a big-bucks beach side "pad," with a fishing boat in a marina nearby, and started a life together that had a wide vista of good food/wine, travel and colorful, delightful friends.
Walt had presence, CJ had charm. They were a Jimmy Buffet power couple.
I met Walt in early 2002. Also retired from the CIA, I was hired on after 9/11 to do a variety of case officer chores, that included work on a particular staff that was brought together by Bob Spinelli, another famous personality in the US professional spy business. Bob, a longtime friend of Walt’s, contacted the old Latin America spy and asked him to work on this special staff.
I was living in North Carolina at the time, and Walt of course was in Florida, so at night – as Bob Spinelli people we were geographic bachelors living in hotel rooms in the Washington, DC area – we would go out for dinner sometimes. We were often joined by Dommy P. a Harvard educated linguist with a David Letterman sense of humor. Though to be honest, Walt tended to be our MC and talked a lot about life with “CJ.” We all had our stories, but on the topic of life-style, none topped Walt and CJ living large in Key Largo.
Walt asked Dommy and I down to Key Largo every other day and in 2004, during a break in our schedule back at CIA hqs in Langley, Brenda and I flew to Key Largo… and met this mystery woman who lived with Walt in this Florida Keys paradise.
If Key Largo, their beach "pad" and CJ’s Fish House wasn’t enough to impress the shirt off your back, our subsequent road trip down the keys to Key West sure did; for the sights outside the car and the rich, wide ranging conversation inside. And the laughs.
The Berwicks and the Parkers Key West, Florida 2004
That started travel for the 4 of us almost every year until 2015. Here are the places we went, in alphabetical order: Amsterdam, Holland; Athens, Greece; Bali, Indonesia; Cork, Ireland; Darwin, Australia; Dublin, Ireland; France; Georgetown, DC; Germany; Great Barrier reef, Australia; Key Largo, Florida; Key West, Florida; Lake Tahoe, Nevada; Las Vegas, Nevada; London, England; Malta; Maui, Hawaii, Melbourne, Australia; Miami, Florida; Newfoundland, Normandy; France; Oahu, Hawaii; Pompeii, Italy; Rome, Italy; Singapore; St Martins; Switzerland; Sydney, Australia.
In all our excursions, Walt and I never stopped talking. We did most of our travel on cruise ships where we played bridge, the 4 of us, and would linger over dinner late every night. Like my wife, Brenda, CJ never had anything bad to say about anyone (though there was one exception, when I acted boorish over a bid Walt made during our bridge play, though I think over time she forgave me, because that’s her nature too. Forgiveness.) But even playing bridge Walt and I talked. He had comments on every subject, every ideology, every turn of history, every art. I did not know nearly as much as he did, so I would sometime have to make up facts as I went along, just to keep the conversation going, but then it didn’t matter. Nothing said on a cruise ship should be taken seriously.
Hard to tell how many hours he and I jawed. There never was a pause that we could remember.
We always enjoyed CJ’s comment about our meals and the way they were served, because she was management of a successful stand-alone restaurant. Brenda had her stroke in 2010, but it didn’t hinder our bridge play or our travel… and CJ took to being the major pusher of the wheel chair. She also has a powerful cackle when she heard something or saw something that struck her as funny. It was like a bell that went off all the time, signaling things were good.
Something else about our group. Maybe because of our work, but Walt and I tended to look for the evil in people and instinctively distrusted strangers, where as Brenda and CJ saw the best in people they met. They engaged everyone sunny side up... and on balance it worked for us a group. We were simpatico.
But then about 2014 Walt began having health problems and he didn’t have his regular rambunctious energy. Our last outing was a cruise from Sydney, Australia up to Singapore, and Walt sometimes didn’t leave his stateroom in the morning.
2015 and 2016 didn’t see much in the way of improvements in Walt’s health, despite his – and a host of doctors' - efforts to stay well.
Brenda and I were out of the country mid-March 2017 when we got that awful email from CJ about Walt’s passing. She was with him in a hospital ICU, holding his hand when he died.
CJ, following Walt’s instructions, submitted a request for his ashes to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery and in mid-summer, after a review of his honorable service to his country, that request was honored and date/time was given for interment at 3 pm, afternoon of 17 August. That was last week.
The honor guard was all Navy, the service out on a green field in Arlington National was solemn and very respectful. A bugler stood off in the distance and his rendering of taps sent chills down my spine. And the 21 gun salute signaled absolute finality to Walt’s earthen trek.
Later as Walt’s ashes were put into the mausoleum and the Chaplin had more words that were practiced and true, the service was over.
Walt would have been pleased. If you are ever at Arlington National, find the mausoleums and seek out his site. Sing a song, or warble a Scottish dilly, give a toast. He would appreciate that.
There was a reception following the service at Jon Monett's house in McLean.
And typical Walt and CJ, it was another WOW.
Maybe 55 people attending the interment at Arlington. About the same number showed up at Jon’s house.
What a collection. Center of the action was Jon Monett’s 105, almost 106, year old mother, who spoke in a strong clear voice about things that caught her fancy as she polished off a man size martini.
CJ stood and recognized everyone who had come to pay respects, including her two children and her brother. And she asked if people would like to stand and say a few words. [The designated VIP was Cal Thomas, the political pundit, who had gone to high school with CJ. He said that she was the most beautiful girl in high school, while he on the other hand was merely the tallest.]
Dick K. was among the first to stand with his trademark humor, and Mike L. with his humor and tales of high adventure and espionage daring do. There was Bob Spinelli who had flown in from Rome, Italy who told insider stories about goin’ through intel training back in the late 60s and later working against really bad people of the 3rd world. There was a former police commissioner who had flown in from Australia, and a Swiss military officer who had Walt as his best man at his wedding long ago, and a Japanese professor who had hosted a 23 day visit by CJ and Walt and had shown them his country from top to bottom. There was a cab driver who met Walt by chance which had led to a lifetime friendship. Not sure where he came from. There was another ex CIA operative who spoke briefly about working a sensitive anti-terrorist case together. There was the son of a soldier Walt had befriended in Afghanistan. And of course Bowman Brown and his lovely wife, who spent time sitting close to the Mike L.’s wife, Beverly, who had alluring, classy deep blue eyes the likes of which are so seldom seen in a person’s life. There were a couple of men, handsome in their Army dress, who Walt and CJ had “adopted” and then what seemed like a couple of dozen people from Key Largo, that knew Walt as part of CJ.
And finally Jon stood up and had the last closing comments about Walt and the heavy footprint he had left during his time with us. [Jon’s house, his mother, his welcoming manner sure made things go easy. Walt made friends with some mighty good men.]
I spoke too of course, and unusual for me I jumbled some of my words/names… but what was so apparent was that my story, or Brenda and my stories, were only on par with everyone else in the room, and I know why. Walt had the gift of the here and now and focus, that served him well during his CIA career, and also helped in developing one on one personal relationships. Walt worked on that. He made me feel our contact was important and unique, just like he made everyone in that reception feel important for knowing him, calling him a friend. Who shared a unique relationship. They had come from great distance to honor him, the way he had honored them.
Following is a poem CJ sent not long after Walt’s death. It’s titled a Scots Farewell in loving memory of Walter Minor Berwick. November 10, 1940 to April 15, 2017. It is as if Walt talking to us now:
When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me,
I want no tears in a gloom-filled room.
Why cry for a soul set free?
Miss me a little, but not too long
And not with your head bowed low.
Remember the love we once shared,
Miss me…. But let me go.
For this journey we all must take
And each must go alone.
It’s all part of the Master plan,
A step on the road to home,
When you are lonely and sick of heart,
Go to the Friend we know
And bury you sorrows
In doing good deeds.
Miss me… but let me go.
Thanks to Glenn Hoover for the service/reception pictures above