Marine, Musician, Textile Inventor Walter Forbes Jr. Dies

Sunday, March 1, 2020
Walter Forbes Jr. and The Third Marine Division Poorboys Hill-Billy Band
Walter Forbes Jr. and The Third Marine Division Poorboys Hill-Billy Band

Walter Tillou Forbes Jr., Marine, musician, and textile inventor, has died of pancreatic cancer.

Born June 18, 1938, he was a son of the late Walter Tillou Forbes and Lucy Frederick Forbes. He was preceded in death by his brother, Felder Frederick Forbes, and grandson Walter Thomas Robinson.

 His life-long love of music and entertaining began in his neighborhood on Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, where he learned guitar, mandolin, and banjo from Fletcher Bright and Ansley Moses. He attended Lookout Mountain Elementary, McCallie School, and graduated from Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps at age 17 after seeing Battle Cry and was with the last occupation troops in Japan and Okinawa. With fellow musicians, he formed The Third Marine Division Poorboys Hill-Billy Band and performed extensively throughout the Far East Command and on a weekly radio show From the Hills of Shori, Okinawa.

After serving, he attended the University of Tennessee/Chattanooga and later transferred to the University of Georgia where he joined Phi Delta Theta fraternity and started the first LaCrosse club. Most importantly, he met Kitty, the love of his life. While in school, Walter auditioned for musician and producer Chet Atkins in Nashville. He recorded two albums for RCA and began performing on the Grand Ole Opry - usually accompanied by the Lonesome Travelers (Norman Blake, Bob Johnson, David “Fingers” Johnston, and Junior Huskey). Walter never considered himself a great musician, but he was a show-stopping entertainer playing with the best, always learning and singing.

After marrying Kitty, Walter went to work in his family business, Signal Thread Company, as a territorial salesman and co-host and quail hunting guide at the family farm Malatchie in Macon County, Georgia. He designed a continuous filament polyester thread, a major breakthrough for the textile industry, and helped the company grow extensively. As his travel increased, he learned to fly, becoming a commercial instrument multi-engine pilot, land and sea rated. He opened Signal Aviation, a fixed-based operation, which he claims was not one of his better business ideas.

Throughout his business career, Walter continued to play music. He performed at the Allied Arts Council music festival and on the Grand Ole Opry. He appeared in Nashville Coyote, a Disney television production, playing the lead human opposite the coyote talent. He produced a documentary on The Dismembered Tennesseans shown at the Tivoli. Walter loved ushering and greeting others at the Church of Good Shepherd, Lookout Mountain. He was a member of the Lookout Mountain Club, the Bohemian Club, San Francisco, CA, the Linthead Association, and a founding member of the SOTS (Sons of Textile Scions). He was a volunteer at Memorial Hospital, making music with his friend Jim Palmour every Wednesday. He was a former member of the Young Presidents Organization and the World Presidents Organization, serving as an officer in both. He was a past member of the Mountain City Club, the Piedmont Driving Club, Atlanta, and the Union League Club, New York City.

Along with his wife Kitty, he was instrumental in establishing the AIM Center, a psycho-social clubhouse for adults with mental illness, which celebrates its 30th Anniversary this year. As board member Emeritus, he continued to make calls for AIM during his illness. Other boards include the YMCA, Chattanooga Theater Center, Moccasin Bend, and Commerce Union Bank.

Known for his smile, intellectual curiosity, love of the outdoors, and magnanimous spirit, he delighted in sharing his interests with others - whether they liked it or not. He loved his family and his dogs - especially standard poodles. He planted grapes and figs in his backyard and made muscadine sauce every year. He was famous for pancakes, mint tea-lemonade, and tomato pie. He was an avid reader, a backgammon enthusiast, and a great wing-shot. Walter was a force of nature.

He is survived by his wife Kitty (Katherine Sibley Bryan). They recently celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary.

He is also survived by a son, Walter Tillou Forbes III (Trey), daughters Katherine Sibley Forbes (Kate), and Jennie Hart Forbes Robinson; son-in-law James Russell Robinson (Jay); grandchildren Nathaniel Forbes Dallimore (Nate), Katherine Rose Dallimore, LCpl Russell Forbes Robinson, Harold Lamb Bryan Robinson (Hal), James Avery Robinson and wife Anna Ladson; sister Bet Forbes Rayburn, sister-in-law Betty Bryan Drennen, brother and sister-in-law John and Jennie Sheffield; nephews and nieces Edward and Emeline Loughlin, Lucy and Chris Jarrett, Jimmy and Lizzie Caldwell, Jay and Taryn Drennen, Buffy Hargett and David Miller, Phyllis and MJ Lyon, Lt Col Jennie Sibley Sheffield and wife Lanie, Missy and Chuck McClure.

Funeral services will be held at 3 p.m. on Thursday, March 12, at the Church of the Good Shepherd on Lookout Mountain with the Reverend Robert Childers officiating.

Arrangements are by Wann Funeral Home. 

Walter Forbes
Walter Forbes

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