Helen Walton

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Helen Walton
Helen Robson

(1919-12-03)December 3, 1919
DiedApril 19, 2007(2007-04-19) (aged 87)
Alma materUniversity of Oklahoma
Known forWalton family fortune
(m. 1943; died 1992)
RelativesLukas Walton (grandson)
Sybil Robson Orr (niece)

Helen Robson Walton (December 3, 1919 – April 19, 2007) was an American philanthropist and prominent arts advocate, dedicated to her community in Bentonville, Arkansas where she instituted a committee for a national museum of arts. After 31 years of activity, the Arkansas Committee on the National Museum for Women in the Arts is the longest standing committee in the state.[1] She was also the wife of Walmart and Sam's Club founder Sam Walton. At one point in her life, she was the richest American and the eleventh-richest woman in the world.


Helen was born in Claremore, Oklahoma. She was the daughter of homemaker Hazel Carr Robson and a prosperous banker/rancher Leland Stanford (L. S.) Robson. She was the valedictorian of her high school class in Claremore, Oklahoma, and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma at Norman with a degree in finance. She married Sam Walton on Valentine's Day, February 14, 1943, in Claremore.[2] They had met in a bowling alley where her dad took her. She once said in a TV interview that upon marrying, they agreed to avoid family squabbling at all costs.[3]

In September 1945, Sam and Helen Walton opened a Ben Franklin "five and dime", their first retail store, in Newport, Arkansas. In 1950, they moved to Bentonville, Arkansas, and in 1962, they opened the first Wal-Mart. Sam Walton credits her for having the idea of the profit-sharing plan with the company's associates.[2]

In 1982, Walton established a children's enrichment center in Bentonville.[4] The center is now called the Helen R. Walton Children's Enrichment Center and has the goal of educating children from 6 weeks old through pre-kindergarten and assisting other child care providers to improve the quality of child care in Arkansas.[4]

When Sam Walton died in 1992, he left his ownership in Wal-Mart to Helen and their four children.

In 2002, as Helen Walton was the president of the Walton Family Foundation, a $300 million donation was made to the University of Arkansas, the biggest donation ever made to a public university in the United States.[5] This donation was preceded by a $50 million donation to the same university's School of Business. Helen also established a scholarship program called the “Walton Scholars,” which helps 150 students annually and helped create a program meant to move students from Central America to the U.S. to learn about democracy and free enterprise.[6]

In the last eight years of her life, Helen suffered from dementia but gained peace painting watercolors. "They're abstract but just lyrical and beautiful," said her daughter Alice in an October 2013 interview with Forbes. "I have two. One's very happy and…oh, whimsical, I guess you would say. Then there's one she did right before she died. I mean, you could almost tell. She knew."[7] She would sometimes in her old age travel to Tennessee, to have lunch with her friend, Annie Kathryn Rives Luck, at the White House Restaurant in the small town of Moscow, Tennessee.

She died of heart failure on April 19, 2007. At the time of her death, she had an estimated net worth of $16.4 billion and owned 8.1% of Wal-Mart. Ms. Walton was survived by her brother, Frank Robson; three children, Samuel Robson Walton, Jim C. Walton, and Alice Louise Walton; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.[8]

Involvement in the Arts[edit]

In 1987, Helen Walton was the leading support and integral figure in the development of the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas. After meeting with the to-be CEO of the center, Bill Mitchell, Walton suggested the renovation of the University of Arkansas' “old men's gym” as the site for the theater. The construction was completed in 5 years and the goals of bringing art and artists to the community that would not experience it otherwise and educating young generations could be realized. The Walton Arts Center is one of the most prominent art presenters in the mid-south and one of the few to still perform full-week Broadway productions.[9][circular reference]

In 1989, Helen Walton, after meeting with Wilhelmina (Billie) Holladay,[10] was inspired to form an Arkansan committee for the National Museum of Women in the Arts or ACNMWA.[11] After discussing their trips to Europe, Walton and Holladay expressed their want to establish a committee that would display the women artists of Arkansas. Texas, Ohio, New York, North Carolina, and Colorado had already held galleries that displayed their women artists by this time.[9][circular reference] The committee was organized in Little Rock, AR with representatives from 12 demographic districts divided by population; Little Rock was the exception with three representatives. Each representative donated $100 and $2000 was donated by the NMWA to fund an Arkansas Gallery in the NMWA Elisabeth Kasser Wing, the first gallery was exhibited in 1990.[11] Helen was the first acting president of the ACNMWA and from 1990 to 1992 was actively a part of the galleries, what artists would be displayed, who would curate the galleries, the budgets for the events, etc.[12] The committee would prove its dedication to accurately portraying the community, displaying not only the women of Arkansas, but minorities of Arkansas as well. ACNMWA held their first national exhibit in 1992, A Personal Statement: Arkansas Women Artists.[11] In 1991, a museum show was dedicated to children's literature, prominently displaying African-American characters and authors.[13] Since Walton's departure from the committee, the ACNMWA has established the Artist Award, the College Internship, and an Arkansan women artist registry[14] to further encourage involvement and interest in the arts. The ACNMWA is the only branch of the national committee that does state-wide tours of the national exhibits.[15]


Coat of arms of Helen Walton
Granted by Conrad Swan, 24th January 1995 [16]
Azure a tau cross triple parted throughout between in chief a dove descending and in base two mullets Argent.
Laborare Est Orare


  1. ^ "Museum dedicated to celebrating women in the arts". The Pine Bluff Commercial. Retrieved 10 March 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Helen Robson Walton: 1919-2007". News.walmart.com. 19 April 2007. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
  3. ^ Bob Ortega (1999). In Sam We Trust: The Untold Story of Sam Walton and how Wal-Mart is Devouring the World. Kogan Page Publishers. p. 413. ISBN 9780749431778.
  4. ^ a b "Helen R. Walton Children's Enrichment Center". Arkansasbusiness. Five Legged Stool LLC. Retrieved February 7, 2019.
  5. ^ "Helen Robson Walton: 1919-2007". News.Walmart. Walmart. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
  6. ^ "Helen Robson Walton: 1919-2007". News.Walmart. Walmart. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
  7. ^ O'Connor, Clare (October 7, 2013), "Inside The World Of Walmart Billionaire Alice Walton, America's Richest Art Collector", Forbes
  8. ^ Porter, Eduardo (21 April 2007). "Helen Walton, Matriarch of Wal-Mart Family, Dies at 87". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 December 2010.
  9. ^ a b Randel, Joe (23 August 2018). "Laying a Foundation for Creativity". Walton Family Foundation. Retrieved 5 April 2019.
  10. ^ Jones, Charlotte (1992). A Personal Statement: Arkansas Women Artists. M-96, Box 1 File 11 University of Central Arkansas Archives: Arkansas Women's History Institute.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  11. ^ a b c Halinski, Jolynda. "Arkansas Committee of the National Museum in the Arts". The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. The Central Arkansas Library System. Retrieved 10 February 2019.
  12. ^ Walton, Helen (1990–1992). Helen Walton Correspondence (1990-1992 + undated). M-96, Box 1 File 10 University of Central Arkansas Archives.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link) CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  13. ^ Burchard, Hank (1991). "Sisters' Eyes on the Prize". Washington Post.
  14. ^ Harrell, Liz (5 April 2017). "The ACNMWA: Advocating for Women Artists". Only in Arkansas. Retrieved 6 April 2019.
  15. ^ "The Arkansas State Committee of NMWA". Arkansas Committee National Museum of Women in the Arts. The Richland Group. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  16. ^ "Lower portion of Helen Walton's letters patent granting her Honorary Arms". nsub1. 25 February 2005. Retrieved 8 November 2019.

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