Gabriel Walker, who taught biology at Portland High School for three decades, had a lasting impact on so many of his students’ lives.

Tim Walker, a guidance counselor at Scarborough High School, said he always wanted to be like his father.

Gabriel Walker in the classroom Photo courtesy of the Walker family

Years ago, Tim Walker was at a teachers conference listening to a speech about the importance of developing positive relationships with students.

The speaker, who had gone to Portland High and was then teaching at PATHS, was talking about his tough home life when he was in high school and about the teacher who became his mentor. That teacher bought him sneakers so he could play sports, and encouraged him to take school seriously and go on to college.

“He got through the story and said the teacher was my father. I was with a group of Portland teachers and they were looking at me like, `Wow, we didn’t know that about your dad.’ I was so proud,” Tim Walker said, his voice breaking.

Gabriel Walker died suddenly on March 1 after cardiac arrest. He was 86.


Walker was known for his passion for science and caring for his students.

Philip Nappi, who graduated from Portland High in 1976, said he once stuck a dissected frog inside a classmate’s book in biology class.

“She screamed when she opened the book,” Nappi said. “Mr. Walker, the way he dealt with me – anybody else would have said, ‘Get out and go to the principal’s office’ – he made me understand it wasn’t acceptable behavior. Yet, he gave me some slack and said, ‘Don’t do it again.’ He had an incredible way about him. He was nurturing and supportive of everything we did, good or bad. Yet he made it clear when we said or did something that wasn’t acceptable.”

Walker went to Deering High School, where he met Sally, his wife of 65 years. The couple lived in Portland and raised six children.

His wife said he was always there for her. He always started the car and positioned it safely in their narrow driveway for her to leave. Recently, she said, she took down the curtains to wash and iron. But, when she tried to put them back up, she couldn’t reach.

“I did this for years, but I shrunk or something,” she said. “He was down in the basement. I yelled for him, ‘Gabe, I need you.’ He was right there. He was Johnny-on-the-spot. He was a kind person. He wasn’t perfect, but he was damn near it.”


Walker worked summer jobs as a housepainter, furniture maker and director of a Portland science program. He also coached Little League and was a baseball coach at Portland High.

Tim Walker said that as a kid, he would ride his bicycle with his brothers and friends to the baseball field near Back Cove for batting practice. His father would spend the day with them, throwing pitches, all knuckleballs.

“Half of us would take the field and half of us would hit,” his son said. “A knuckleball isn’t an easy pitch to hit, but that’s all he threw. The kids in the neighborhood loved him. He was an awesome dad … almost too good to be true. The more I reflect on it, the more appreciative I am.”

Tim Walker spoke fondly of his father making creamed chipped beef on toast, a dish he called S.O.S, or (expletive) on a shingle. He said his father was also the Walker boys’ barber.

“He would take us down in the basement in front of his workbench and give us all buzz cuts,” his son said. “We came full circle. When his barber retired, I became his barber. I have been giving him buzz cuts right in the same spot he gave us all haircuts. When I saw him (a few days before he died), he asked for a haircut, which I was happy to give him. That’s the last time I saw him. It’s a wonderful memory I will always appreciate.

Gabriel Walker as a Sea Dogs usher Photo courtesy of the Walker family

Gabriel Walker retired from teaching in 1994. The following year, he became an usher for the Portland Sea Dogs. He worked for the organization for 25 years and retired as head usher in 2020.


Walker was a fixture at the ballpark and loved by everyone in the organization, his son said. Tim Walker said that love was evident when he took his parents to a Sea Dogs game last summer. It was Gabe Walker’s first visit to the ballpark in two years. It was also his mother’s first Sea Dogs game. He said his father sat long enough to eat a hot dog and chips and spent the night catching up with friends and players.

“You would have thought Elvis walked back into the building,” his son said. “It was heartwarming. I feel so fortunate to have been part of that. My mom got to see the love and affection everybody had for him. It was special. His Sea Dogs friends were like his second family.”

Walker had a heart attack in 2020 and spent 81 days recovering at Maine Medical Center in Portland. He developed pneumonia in the hospital and contracted COVID-19 after his discharge. His wife said he never fully regained his strength.

On March 1, Walker started and positioned his wife’s car in the driveway so she could meet a friend for breakfast. It was his last act of kindness. Sally Walker said she came home to find her husband dead on the kitchen floor with his coat and boots still on.

“We are so blessed that it happened quickly,” Tim Walker said. “We knew he didn’t have another 10 years. Every day was a gift. That’s the way we all looked at it. We are so thankful.”

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