COMMUNITY RALLIES AROUND BELOVED HANDYMAN WALLY SUMNER
BY MARK E. LETT | PHOTOS BY LAURA R. WILSON
Stroke victim Walter Sumner is taking a long, hard road to recovery.
The good news: He’s not traveling alone and he’s picking up speed.
Family, loved ones and friends — from Sumner’s neighborhood in the Alljoy community to his Upstate acquaintances — are supporting his difficult recuperation with hope, prayers, kind words and donations.
After all, it was Walter — “Wally, Wally” to some — who unfailingly offered his friendship and a handyman’s help over the years.
Appreciative friends say the affection shown Sumner is testament to the power of “paying it forward.” It certainly provides heartfelt evidence that a community cares deeply about a man of good will who has met with bad times.
Sumner, a master carpenter, was hospitalized in May by a spinal stroke that left him paralyzed from the neck down. The medical tragedy left him in critical condition in a Savannah hospital bed.
Since then, as the days stretched into weeks and months, Sumner’s life-saving treatment has been a grueling mix of medical devices, special nutrients, therapies and exercises to promote healing and support his breathing, speech, kidneys and movement.
As summer moved into fall, family and friends reported the intense care was succeeding. The 64-year-old Sumner steadily showed signs of improvement.
“His brain is working and he’s as sharp as a tack,” Sumner’s son Weston, said after a mid-summer hospital visit. “It’s amazing.
“He’s determined to come back stronger than ever. His spirit is way younger than his age.”
Modern medicine has been essential, said Walter’s wife, Diane Owens. So, too, has been the kindness of caring friends and family.
Among those, a couple who drove to Savannah from the South Carolina Upstate to visit Sumner, who hails from their Woodruff-area community.
“I am so grateful for all of Bluffton and all the support from so many,” said Owens. “There are still wonderful people out there in the world.”
Sumner’s absence from the Alljoy community was felt immediately. Known as a neighbor of good will and good works, Sumner is quick to welcome newcomers and even quicker to lend a hand when and where needed — from hosting receptions for newcomers to helping neighbors with repairs and grass mowing.
A Bluffton area resident for more than four decades, Walter and Diane are selfless, self-styled friendly faces in an eclectic neighborhood.
The couple was seen frequently cruising the Alljoy and Bluffton streets in their golf cart, joined by Lila the Pig.
“She’s my chemo pig,” said Diane, who survived a 2013 bout with breast cancer.
“Walter was right by my side, backing me the whole time, and I’m right there with him now.”
The couple suffered an additional setback just days after Walter’s stroke in May, when the medical office where Diane worked was closed, leaving her unemployed and uninsured.
Friends and family swung into action with a “Go Fund Me” page, a fund-raising event and donations of time and money.
“Wally is known for helping those in need, is always ready to lend a helping hand and often does random acts of kindness for the elderly or widows in our village,” says a message on the GoFundMe page. “Together, we can help keep Walter and Diane afloat in this storm, and it will take all of us pitching in when, how, and where we can.”
Contributions — including those from the GoFundMe page and a July cornhole tournament and fundraiser at the Cheap Seats Tavern — raised tens of thousands of dollars.
Laura R. Wilson, a friend instrumental in organizing support for Walter and Diane, said the community is “standing strong” for the couple.
“We all have stories about how Walter helped us out in one way or another,” she said. “Sometimes, he would just roll up and start helping out, no matter what was needed and without being asked.
“Now, the people whose lives he has touched are trying to pay it forward as best we can.”
“I’ve lived all over South Carolina,” he said. “And the Lowcountry — and its people — are the best.”