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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

WHERE'S WALDO?


   UPDATE: Thanks to the thoughts, prayers, actions and tips of thousands of Wally's family, friends, former co-workers, neighbors, alums, media members and the homeless shelter volunteer community, he was located in downtown Dallas and picked up healthy (and sober) by his brother Friday afternoon. Thanks to everyone for their support. Happy Fourth of July weekend!


   Dear Wally Lynn,

   I'm writing you this letter ... because I desperately don't want to author your obituary.
   It's going to be one of the most heart-breaking and gut-wrenching pleas I've ever made. Don't make me beg for your life. For now, just allow yourself to be found. Then surrender to some help.
   Small steps.
   You've endured an unfathomably painful fall from grace. Gone is the fame and fortune and marriage and houses and cars and good chunks of your family and friends. You've been in and out of hospitals, in and out of rehab.
   Now, best we can piece together, you've been in and out of a homeless shelter in downtown Dallas.
   You were last seen refusing the open arms of your brother and heading out of Presbyterian Hospital in Plano on May 17. On that day you wore khaki pants, a green Polo and sneakers, and were wheeling behind you a royal blue suitcase containing your last few possessions. You accepted a ride from your college roommate, but only if he'd take you to downtown Dallas. A volunteer at The Bridge Homeless Assistance Center near Farmers Market swears that on May 20 you came in for a shower and a hot meal and ... poof. Gone.
   That was 41 days ago.
   You're one of the most talented, creative and funny people I've ever known. Resourceful. Clever. But now - due to a toxic mix of stubborn pride and brain-skewing alcohol - I fear you've willingly transformed yourself into a human needle in a homeless haystack.
   At least I hope that's the case. Because at this point that's the best scenario I can stomach.
   Your brothers, your two college-grad sons and a handful of your friends have spent endless hours on countless days scouring the streets and shelters to no avail. I used to call you "Waldo," never in my worst nightmares envisioning I'd be searching for you under these dire circumstances.
   The Bridge. Austin Street Shelter. Union Gospel Mission. Even random convenience stores. Despite questions and photos and cash, neither employees nor residents can confirm you're alive, much less pinpoint your whereabouts.
   Too old for an Amber Alert and not clinically diagnosed with a specific enough ailment to warrant a Silver Alert, Dallas police categorize you as just another 55-year-old homeless man lost in their crowded missing persons reports.
   I spent a couple hours looking for you Tuesday morning, better known as running into a brick wall. One man outside a shelter told me "Oh yeah, see him all the time." But I have the feeling he would've confirmed a UFO landing on my shoulder for another $5. Another pointed me toward bushes behind what looked like an abandoned building on Cadiz Street, which he called "the store." "If he's a drinker, he down at the store with the other drinkers." Sure enough there were 8-10 homeless behind "the store" and - at 8:45 a.m. - drinking. None of them were you. None of them knew you.
   I was simultaneously relieved, and horrified.
   Searching for you amidst the shards of what once were whole lives punched me right in the spoiled kisser. Some have blank stares. Some are shuffling to nowhere. Some are babbling about nothing to no one. They all have a story, co-starring some form of demons, depression and despair. Suicide feels like it's just around the corner.
   I was forced to wonder what happened to them all. Like you, had they chosen to go AWOL straight into Hell? Did they alienate their families and maybe they even ...
   Screw that. To me you're still Walter Ralph, a guy who gave himself the stage name of Wally Lynn and blossomed into one of the most successful personalities in DFW sports media.
   We met in the early '90s at Valley Ranch covering the Dallas Cowboys - me writing for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and you as a talk-show host for KLIF 570 AM. Immediately we hit it off. Home-grown kids with talents better suited for reporting than playing, we shared old memories about the Cowboys. We commenced a game of Cowboys' history in which we volleyed uniform numbers and/or names at each other.
   "Twenty-seven," I'd say casually and randomly.
   To which you'd quickly retort, "Easy. Ron Fellows."
   I'd go home that night to hear you on my answering machine with a simple message: "Guy Brown." I called back with only "Fifty Nine" and a dial tone. And the game played on, for the better part of two decades.
   You had popular sports talk radio shows with Leon Simon and Mike Fisher. You had fruitful ESPN stints in Austin and Dallas. You hosted a show with Daryl Johnston. You won admiration, listeners and multiple Katie Awards from the Dallas Press Club. You called everything from the Sidekicks to SMU to the Mavs and Cowboys. I got the pleasure of working alongside you at 105.3 The Fan.
   But now you've made the most undesirable of treks: From homer, to homeless.
   A Lake Highlands kid living in Allen, I was always fascinated by your talents. You could sing like Sinatra, impersonate everyone from Jack Buck to Michael Irvin and effortlessly play the guitar, piano and even an old washboard.
   Unlike a lot of us more, um, polarizing media dorks, seemingly everyone liked you. Not a disparaging word from any corner of an industry laced with competition, jealousy and back-stabbing.
   You weren't bad off the "field" either. In 1995 you were one of the first hires at an Internet radio company run out of a Deep Ellum warehouse by an entrepreneur named Mark Cuban. When AudioNet morphed into Broadcast.com, then had the largest IPO in Wall Street history, and then was bought by Yahoo! for $6 billion in 1999, you became an instant multi-millionaire.
   Maybe, in retrospect, money is indeed the root of all evil.
   Because life - even when camouflaged in temporary success - is a fragile little bitch.
   You had it all. Beautiful, fun wife. Smart, sensible kids. Notable media career. BMWs in the garage. New 80-acre ranch in Spicewood, just west of Austin and around the bench from Willie Nelson's annual Fourth of July picnic. We'd play golf in the morning at Twin Creeks and enjoy a post-show Happy Hour at Love & War in Texas. Summer weekends would find us at your ranch playing Wiffle ball and washers, boating on the Colorado River or using 100-year-old Oaks as makeshift flagsticks for our impossibly designed Par 12s played through knee-high weeds.
   You were a Jack Daniels & 7Up man. I introduced you to Captain Morgan & Coke, constantly reminding you that I was the big drinker of the group. Or so I thought.
   Shit happened on the way to happily ever after. Actually, a shit storm.
   Your financial windfall was severely diminished by the 2000 dot.com bubble burst. Your marriage dissolved into divorce. You absorbed a legal hiccup. You had to sell the ranch. You voluntarily sold your house, and your car. You lost your gumption for media, for fellowship, for everything.
   By early 2012 you quit The Fan, and life. You hung your head, and raised your white flag.
   The Wally Lynn that could light up any room was now moping in the dark corner of a modest apartment along the Tollway in Plano. Your sense of humor was devoured by a hermit. Ashamed of where you were compared to where you had been, you withdrew. From friends. From me. From family. From sports. From your world.
   Phone calls went unreturned. Texts weren't answered. Neither were knocks at your door. Christmas parties got no-showed. Birthdays were ignored. Before your appalled family could clearly grasp the depths of your depth, you almost drank yourself to death.
   Found lying in your apartment unconscious with a swollen brain due to Alcoholic Induced Encephalopathy, you hit what we thought at the time was rock bottom. Thirty days in ICU at a hospital in Abilene just to survive, followed by another month of rehab just to start thinking and stop drinking.
   "It's pretty scary what I did to myself," you told me upon returning home from rehab. "I'm lucky to be alive."
   It was dramatic. It was also bullshit.
   Over the next four years we remained friendly, but never returned to being friends. The physical and psychological damage of your downward spiral and ugly episode was irreparable. During phone calls and lunches there were hints of Wally, but you just weren't you.
   I asked you to go to a Rangers game but you didn't feel up to it. I helped get you a job offer as a media consultant but you "weren't ready for that yet." You claimed you had money stashed away, and some sort of gig working for Google.
   You didn't seem fresh, but I thought you were at least functional.
   I talked to you this year shortly after your birthday in February. Same. Stagnant, but nothing seemingly alarming.
   We haven't spoken since.
   Those of us who tried to tip-toe the delicate balance between tough love and enabler are now having severe second thoughts, because sometime this Spring you totally gave up.
   Your brother found you again passed out on the floor of your apartment, which was littered with Miller Lite cans, eviction notices and the unmistakable stench of Idon'tgiveashit. Your family initially thought you were dead, or would soon die. They reasoned that jail was the best place for you. Safe shelter. Limited options. Forced to clear your mind and rise to your feet.
   But after another eight days in the hospital nothing changed. There had been no light-bulb moment of clarity. There was no apology. There was no repentance. There was no accepting responsibility. There was no rock bottom.
   You lied to yourself and to social workers about the grim gravity of your situation. You were belligerent in refusing help - shelter, rent money, etc. - from friends and family, instead deciding to blend in with the herd of homeless in Dallas. Some hearts broke for you. Others hardened against you. Both agreed on the sad truth: You can't help those unwilling to help themselves.
   Father's Day came and went recently, your sons left to only reminisce about the full-of-life-full-of-love Dad they once knew.
   There is sadness and, yep, guilt in not knowing for sure if I helped push you over the edge or merely didn't catch you when you fell. I dunno, maybe it was both.
   If When you read this story it will probably make you angry. Good. I'd rather embarrass you than bury you. And since I can't wake you up with a slap to the face, I'm instead slapping your face on this virtual milk carton.
   I pray that someone will read this and remember something. See something. Hear something. Maybe spot your blue suitcase. Or your barely recognizable face sipping a Miller Lite. It's a long-shot I realize but, unlike you, I'm not ready to totally give up.
   Despite the anger and resentment over the pain you've caused and the life you seem Hell-bent on wasting, there remains a lot of us that still care about you. That still love you. Willing to forgive. Ready to open our minds and hearts and homes.
   But the first step, Waldo, is allowing yourself to be helped. And that starts with being found.

   Sincerely,
   Richie Whitt
   Richie@DFWSportatorium.com

77 comments:

  1. If you have any information that might help find Wally, comment here or email me at Richie@DFWSportatorium. Thanks for reading. And, if you can, helping.

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    1. My brother's street name was Ducky. Do you know Wally's? That will go a long way in finding your friend. Good luck.

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    2. Good point, hadn't thought of that. And, no, don't know it unfortunately.

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    3. Walrus perhaps?

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    4. Thank you for sharing the good news about Wally! He's in my thoughts today...

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  2. Great read. Used to love him with Leon the Barber. Hoping for the best.

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  3. Dammit. I hope he gets it together.

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  4. Dammit. I hope he gets it together.

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  5. Dang, appreciate you looking out for your friend and not giving up. The struggle of addiction is real and as hard as it is for us to understand, many or practically helpless to its vice. I pray this turns out well, for all involved.

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  6. I listened to him at night with Leon during college. I had no idea that all if this has happened. I will pray and addiction is a bitch. You are a good friend Ritchie to help find him.

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  7. Terrible. Addiction is a confounding illness. I pray forhim and his family.

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  8. I was a huge fan of Wally & Leon. Listening to The Sports Brothers was a bright spot in my day. I hope he reads this and reaches out for help. You have friends and fans Wally. We all want you to get your life back.

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  9. Wally was the very 1st to put a microphone in front of me. I wouldn't have a career without him. I had no idea...I'll start looking.

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  10. I met Wally in 2012 when I was working as a supervisor at a hotel in the Stockyards. We chatted about sports and the book he was helping promote, "Courage Beyond the Game". When he found out I was UTA journalism grad, he spoke about you, Richie. He recommended I read "The Hard Lie" after I told him what a huge fan of RAGE I was. He found out I was an MMA enthusiast and he set up a meeting with BDH. I was nearly able to parlay that meeting into a gig working with Richard, but it didn't work out. But still, what a great guy to just shoot the breeze and help out a complete stranger. Great guy. Sad story.

    -Kevin Nail

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  11. Damn...another really riveting piece RW....good read. I hope you find your friend and hope he's ok. Nice to see the Sportatorium back albeit on a sober note.

    Sincerely,

    Name that Dude Singing Like a Rolling Stone

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    1. Great to see you again my friend. I will post more uplifting stories than this one I promise.

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  12. First of all, I am sorry for your friend. I met Wally at a Love & War meet and greet with Jason Witten. We became facebook friends, but he never knew how much we have in common. The story you have shared is EXACTLY the same as my brother's. He died while living near a homeless sheltet in downtown Dallas a few years ago. He had gone underground, whatever that means... Anyone who helped my brother, helped him drink another day. He knew where to find ALL of us. He knew where we lived. He did not want help. He wanted to drink himself to death. He did not want help! You have written a beautiful obituary. My condolences to you and to his precious family.

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    1. I hope you're wrong. But, as we all do, I fear you're right.

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  13. I feel completely sick after reading this :( :(
    The Sheeran family lost touch with Wally a few years back.. Unanswered calls and texts. Our prayers and thoughts go out to Wally and his family! Always loved him, always will!

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    1. Easy to lose touch when communications go consistently unanswered. I know the feeling. Hope y'all are doing well.

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    2. I assume Cuban would have had some degree of friendship and has put some amount of resources into the downside of this story at some point. I listened to all KLIF sports shows starting with waking up with Norm and Fish at noon then in the evening Wally and Leon. I assumed Wally had semi retired and was enjoying philanthropy. Dot com bubble was tough. It's never worth enjoying the beauty of life and I hope a part of him is somewhere. I've seen addiction up close in my family and we have the gene of tendency toward alcoholism. I'm fortunate that I've never had a drink and never been curious for whatever reason. If I can help I'd like to.

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    3. I meant never worth missing enjoying the beauty of life.

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  14. Such a sad story but one that is common.Wally entertained me night after night and it was always rewarding to hear his voice.My prayers and thoughts go our to his family and friends especially you Richie.Lets hope he is found and realizes he has a place in this world and friends and family to share it with him...

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  15. You're a good friend Richie. I hope this story ends well for you, his family, and Wally.

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    1. What a sad story - you must be a very good friend Richie - how sad for Wally's family & those who are always thinking of him & so willing to help him. Just hope that he can be found & made realize that family, good friends & those who still wish him to be there with them, no matter what has happened in his life - how lucky is he !!!!!! Hope this story ends nicely in the days to come.

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  16. Mercy. Alright then, figured he's just as busy as always.

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  17. A great article but a very sad story. I do hope it has a happy ending soon.

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    1. Horrible tale to tell, but at this desperate point it had to be told. Thanks.

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  18. I knew walter and fish and their ego's got the best of them, but some how, fish survived.truly one of the best pieces I've ever read, especially when dealing with someone that has issues themselves. I love the line, "I'd rather embarrass you than bury you." good luck in finding him. Can we get a follow-up now on where's Greggo?

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  19. This is so heartbreaking. He's lucky to have you as a friend but at this point in his life he doesn't even know that. I'll be praying for him to be found and be willing to do what's necessary to straighten up his life.

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  20. Wally is a great man. Have many memories of a lot of good times with that guy. I'll keep an eye out for him in the Austin area. My wife and I often wondered what he was up to...we had seemed to lose touch in the past couple years. Every time Raul Malo and the Mavericks come to the Austin area we always say we need to invite Wally! This is tragic news and I appreciate you sharing Richie. Hope and pray this ends well!

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    1. Lotsa good times with that crazy dude. Praying we can have a couple more. Good to hear from you.

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  21. I can't even begin to fathom the heartache you are dealing with. I pray you find your friend soon & that he accepts help from those who love him. You're a good friend.

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    1. Thanks for the kinds words. Fingers crossed.

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  22. That was me 25 yrs ago. Somehow I got help. Miracles can happen. If he's alive, he has a chance. Pray for Wally.

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  23. I've passed this along to some of my Dallas PD buddies and missing persons. They all now have the pics you posted. Hope it helps.

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  24. Richie, Thanks for having the courage to write this. I know it was an excruciating endeavor. Walter is one of the great influences of my life. Not a week passes, that I do not think of him and pray he is in a good place. Wally - I love you brother and I hope you will give one of us a chance to show it.
    - John David Driggers

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    1. Thanks buddy. Hope we have some more good times together.

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  25. Wally's son was in my science class many years ago in Allen. He was a wonderful young man and obviously leading by example. This is a heartbreaking story.

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    1. His sons are awesome. And obviously this is painful for them both.

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  26. I graduated with Walter... Thank you for writing his story! It breaks my heart to hear it. We have a loving God if only Wally can remember that. He doesn't expect perfection, but loves us unconditionally right where we are! As a volunteer for The Bill Glass Prison Ministry Ring of Champions I may have someone I can pass this along to. You never know where he's ended up. Is the first photo you included the most recent you have available? Any from his last stint in the hospital?
    Thank you for not giving up on him! You're a great friend and brother in Christ! I'll continue to pray for you both... And help where I can!

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    1. Thank you. Yep, that 1st pic is the best, even though it's years old.

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  27. Ritchie, powerful piece of writing.

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  28. Richie you annoy the heck out of me sometimes on twitter and you did on the radio as well but it's your brilliant writing like this that I love!!! It's when you are at your absolute best, even when the story is so damn tough. Great job and I'll be praying for your friend.

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    1. Thanks for your feedback. Means a lot.

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  29. Richie. I have no words. I just missed how severe his life has become. I understand about broken spirit and dreams and will. But not our Walter. He is not a quitter I pray with all my heart he is found. His family must feel shattered. I know friends do. I sure am. I am so thankful for your post! Tracee

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  30. May our Awesome God touch Walter's heart right where he is at this moment and return him to sanity. May he reach out for help and return to you soon. In Jesus name I pray. In all things may his will be done. Amen

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  31. May our Awesome God touch Walter's heart right where he is at this moment and return him to sanity. May he reach out for help and return to you soon. In Jesus name I pray. In all things may his will be done. Amen

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  32. I am Wally's old neighbor. I have shared this on my facebook page. I hope everyone that sees this, will share it on their pages too and will ask their connections to share it as well to help with the search for Wally. So sorry that he is going through such a tough time. Hope and pray he finds himself and the strength to pull through the bad streak of luck that he has been going through in these recent years. To the kids, hang in there and if we can do anything, please let us know. God Bless, Sandy

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  33. The entire time I was reading the piece, I was thinking it was a work...kept waiting for the punchline. I worked at a couple of places with Wally and he was a mentor to me. Always supportive, kind and creative. I moved out of state several years ago and lost touch, so I had no clue any of this was happening. Richie, you were definite one of his boys so if any friend can get to him, it's you.

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    1. Doing my best. Thanks. I only wish it was one of his clever pranks.

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  34. One of the saddest pieces I've read. I often wondered why Wally wasn't involved in local sports radio. This wasn't an answer I expected. I hope you find your friend Richie.

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  35. Shannon Nudds SmithJune 30, 2016 at 10:38 AM

    After reading this yesterday, I can't stop thinking about Wally. Please come home Wally, we all love you.

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  36. You are definitely a good friend Richie. I know that St. Paul United Methodist service dinner to the homeless every Sunday around 4. There is a volunteer Cedar Hill PD officer that is there every Sunday. You may want to share his picture with her, she is very familiar with most of our many homeless in Dallas. Good luck! I will be praying for Wally and his family and friends.

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  37. Richie, great story. I hope and pray for Wally. You are a true friend. God bless you.

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  39. I'm totally taken off guard by this story. I was a huge Sports Brothers fan on KLIF. Hope Wally is found alive and well. If there is ever an organized Street sweep put together by his old friends I would be more than happy to help look for him. If somebody will post it I will participate in it.

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  40. I'm totally taken off guard by this story. I was a huge Sports Brothers fan on KLIF. Hope Wally is found alive and well. If there is ever an organized Street sweep put together by his old friends I would be more than happy to help look for him. If somebody will post it I will participate in it.

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  41. He is a great man and friend. May he feel the peace and love being sent to him from all who knows him. Praying

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  42. Hold your breath and tune your radio: Potentially GREAT news re: Wally at 2:45 on 103.3 FM ESPN.

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  44. Nice work Richie. Maybe he would have been located today anyway. Who knows? But I'm going to believe your plea (and maybe the prayers it generated) led to this good news. I hope now our brother finds his footing.

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  45. I am grateful Wally has been found. There is a solution. Millions have recovered, (I say, "I am and always will be" recovering as the disease is never cured. We have a daily reprieve based on the maintenance of our spiritual condition). It is a simple program and is contained in the first 164 pages of the book Alcoholics Anonymous. It works if one is ready and has had enough pain. This is a fellowship unlike any other and if Wally is ready, he can enjoy life as our Creator intended. I didn't think life could be fun without booze. King Alcohol was killing me too. It killed my brother.

    Prayers today for those who are still suffering. We are prodigal children. Some of God's favorites. What a story Wally will have. How many people can he help by sharing his experience, strength and hope with others? I pray he "Gets It". I'll stay tuned.
    Thanks for sharing.

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  46. Richie, thanks for your powerful piece sharing Walt's story, and I'm sure it played a role in locating him again. He and his family are in our thoughts, and we all are pulling for his recovery. You've also helped others better understand the challenges of addiction.

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  47. Great story Richie. Did not know you still had your blog. Don't always agree with you, but always enjoyed reading your articles. You were a pretty tough dude.

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  48. This is so sad. I listened to Wally on KLIF back in the 90s. I have gone through some ups and downs recently. I was helped by the national foundation of radio in nyc. They can help Wally too.

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  49. Richie, thank you so much for your great work here and rallying so many to search, pray and root for Wally Lynn. I had the great fortune to work with Wally Lynn at KLIF as his Promotions Director. I adored him and his family and we were his family too. Such a brilliant talent and kind, caring soul. My heart aches for he and his family and my prayers will continue.

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  50. Wow, Just Wow. I had no Idea. I worked with Wally in the 90's at KLIF. I just friended him on FB after seeing a post from a mutual friend you and him had lunch with. It makes me very sad. Hope he stays safe.

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  51. You were last seen refusing the open arms of your brother and heading out of Presbyterian Hospital in Plano on May 17. On that day you wore khaki pants, a green Polo and sneakers, and were wheeling behind you a royal blue suitcase containing your last few possessions.
    Watch live racing

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