ASHEBORO, NC - North Carolina Zoo staff members, both present and past, today mourn the passing of former State Senator Russell Walker Sr., of Asheboro, whose unflagging support for the zoo during two decades in the State Legislature is largely responsible for creating the world-class facility that North Carolina citizens take such pride in today.

Walker, 91, passed away on Wednesday at Randolph Hospital in Asheboro.

"Senator Walker was one of the zoo's greatest champions," said N.C. Zoo Chief of Staff Mary Joan Pugh. "I can't imagine what the zoo would be or if it would even exist without his tireless efforts."

It was during its formative years in the 1970's and 1980's that Walker's greatest impact was felt on the fledgling zoological park south of Asheboro. Walker often stood alone and coerced support from other legislators to ensure that bills supporting the zoo's construction and development were introduced and passed.

As a result, fellow lawmakers as well as veteran zoo staff members often referred to the State Zoo as "Russell Walker's Farm." But today the N.C. Zoo is recognized as one of the world's top natural-habitat animal parks. In a fitting tribute, the Forest Edge Exhibit, a 3.5-acre habitat for zebras, ostriches and giraffes and the first permanent exhibit built at the zoo was named in Walker's honor in May of 1995.

A memorial service for Walker will be held on Sunday, Sept. 6, at 3 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 420 West Walker Ave. in Asheboro. The family will receive friends and family on Saturday, Sept. 5, from 2-4 p.m. at Pugh Funeral Home in Asheboro.

The zoo is an agency of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Dee Freeman, Secretary; Beverly Eaves Perdue, Governor.