Walter Densmore, GW high school athlete, dies at 79

Walter Densmore, GW high school athlete, dies at 79
From left to right, former high school teammates Bob Garda, Jerry File and Walter Densmore Jr. at the Old Dominion Boat Club in 2008 after a Northern Virginia basketball reunion. (Courtesy Photo)

By Missy Schrott |

Walter Cox Densmore Jr., a George Washington High School record-breaking basketball player, died from cancer on March 15. He was 79.

Densmore grew up in Alexandria, and made his mark on the city through basketball.

During his high school years, he set a single season scoring record of 506 points and a career scoring record of 1,099 points.

His senior year, he led the GW varsity basketball team to a first-place ranking in the metropolitan area and third in the state. The same year, Densmore was named First Team All-Met and First Team All-State.

“It was a lot of determination that he had,” former teammate Jerry File said. “He practiced a lot, and … he just had tremendous perseverance and wanted to make himself into a very good athlete.”

Throughout high school, Densmore played alongside several other talented basketball players, including Doug Yates, Mike Agee, Bob Garda and Mike Delnegro.  

In addition to basketball, Densmore lettered for two years in varsity tennis and varsity golf.

“I think those sports helped him develop his coordination and they helped him develop his good footwork and his reflexes. While he was big and bulky, he was a pretty gifted athlete,” File said.

Densmore was recognized for his athleticism in 1999, when the Alexandria Sportsman’s Club named him one of the city’s 100 greatest athletes. He’s also been nominated this year for the Alexandria City Public Schools Athletic Hall of Fame. The Athletic Hall of Fame Advisory Committee will vote on nominees in May, and the winners will be inducted in October.

“I think the people of Alexandria, particularly … a lot of the younger athletes really looked up to him and admired him for his tremendous athletic skills,” File said. “He was a very good person to emulate because he was not only a good athlete but he was a good teammate, he was a good student and he was just a very fine person.”

In addition to his success on the court, Densmore excelled in the classroom as an honor roll student and member of the Quill and Scroll national honor society.

After graduating from GW in 1957, Densmore went on to play basketball on a full scholarship at the University of Virginia from 1958 to 1961. He spent three years as a starter, since freshman were at that time ineligible to play.

“He averaged around seven, eight, nine points a game while he was there,” Densmore’s son, Walter Densmore III, said. “The one he never let me forget, I think it was his last game … at Cameron Indoor [Stadium] against Duke, he had 20 points, so that one, he never quit telling that story.”

Upon graduating from UVA in 1961, Densmore served a two-year tour of duty as army commanding officer of the Roanoke Recruiting Station.  

While he didn’t move back to Alexandria, he returned often to visit his mother and his father, who served as associate director of the Mount Vernon Estate for 41 years.

It was at the Mount Vernon Estate that Densmore proposed to his wife of 58 years, Mary Kate Densmore, whom he had met in a train station during a layover as he was headed to Madison Square Garden for a basketball game.

Densmore spent the majority of his later years in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he worked for 27 years as the director of business services at the University of Alabama. He earned several awards and accolades during his time in the position, including a Distinguished Service Award from the governor of Alabama.

“He loved working at the university,” Densmore III said. “He was the director of business services at the university. He was the first one to have that title. … He loved that job and loved the university.”

Densmore III said throughout his life, his father’s passion for basketball never faded.

“I played against him when I was growing up, just some pick-up ball. He liked to shoot the hook shot,” Densmore III said. “I’m not sure I ever beat him in a time test out on our driveway.”

Densmore III said his father continued to incorporate basketball into his life at the University of Alabama, through refereeing high school and college games, as well as playing pick-up games daily.

“He played pick-up ball there at the [Coleman] Coliseum every day at lunch for about an hour, hour and a half, up until he was about 50 years old, which probably led to his hip replacements, but … he continued to be pretty good up until he just finally said, ‘Ah, I’ve had enough pick-up basketball,” Densmore III said.

In his retirement, Densmore was an avid golfer with a single-digit handicap. He served as president of the Country Club of Tuscaloosa and was also member of First Presbyterian Church, Indian Hills Country Club, the University of Alabama Tip Off Club, the Red Elephant Club and Phoenix Club.

Densmore was preceded in death by his parents, Walter and Dorothy Densmore of Whispering Pines, North Carolina. He is survived by his wife, Mary Kate; sister, Mary Lee Martin (Jerry); son, Walt Densmore III (Ann); daughter, Mary Nelson Notaro; grandchildren, Katie Pyle (Chris), Brown McMurray, Hannah Notaro, Rosie Notaro, Mary Jessie Densmore and Will Densmore.

Densmore’s funeral took place last month. The family requests that those who wish to donate give to First Presbyterian Church of Tuscaloosa or the V Foundation for Cancer Research.