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BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Helen Robson Walton, widow of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. founder Sam Walton, died on April 19 in her Bentonville home of natural causes. Walton was 87.
A public memorial service will be held today at 1:30 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Bentonville.
"We are so proud of our mother and the life she led," said Rob Walton, eldest son of Sam and Helen Walton and chairman of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. "She devoted much of her life to helping others, and to improving the quality of life in northwest Arkansas. Today, my brother and sister, and the entire Walton and Robson families, mourn my mother's death. But we also celebrate her extraordinary life."
Helen Robson was born Dec. 3, 1919, in Claremore, Okla. Her parents, L.S. and Hazel Carr Robson, instilled in Helen a strong appreciation for traditional "small-town" values, which would serve her and her family well in the years to come, according to a biography released by Wal-Mart.
In April of 1942, after graduating from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in finance, Robson met Sam Walton, who was working in Pryor, Okla.
In his autobiography, "Sam Walton: Made in America," Walton wrote, "When Helen and I met and I started courting her, I just fell right in love. She was pretty and smart and educated, ambitious and opinionated, and strong-willed -- with ideas and plans of her own. Also, like me, she was an athlete who loved the outdoors, and she had lots of energy."
Robson and Walton were married on Valentine's Day in 1943 in Claremore, and spent two years living the army life. By the time he fulfilled his military duty in 1945, Sam had decided what he wanted to do for a living -- retailing. He and Helen eventually settled in Newport, Ark. There, in September of 1945, they opened their first retail store together, a Ben Franklin "five and dime."
Five years later, the couple moved to a small country town in northwest Arkansas named Bentonville. In 1962, the Waltons opened their first Wal-Mart in Rogers, Ark. Until his death in 1992, Sam considered Helen as one of his best business advisors, and he credited her for the original idea for the Wal-Mart profit-sharing plan, Wal-Mart said.
Helen's was very involved in philanthropic activities focusing on education, the arts, and families and children. She also was very active at the local and national level in the Presbyterian Church.
In 1997, Helen accepted on behalf of her family the National Patriot Award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. This represented the first time in the Society's history that the award was presented to a family.
Helen Walton was preceded in death by son, John, and is survived by a brother, Frank Robson; two sons, Rob and Jim; a daughter, Alice; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.