Dr. Walter Bishop, Organist

Walter Bishop is one of those not-too-common adult Atlantans who were born in Atlanta, specifically, in his parents’ home in the Grant Park neighborhood. This was in 1928, during the Georgia Tech v. Alabama football game, and his mother felt that both the attending physician and Walter’s father somewhat resented the timing. Most of Walter’s early years were spent in the Kirkwood neighborhood. He attended public schools in Atlanta and DeKalb County, then took a B.A. in fine arts at Emory University. At this point, he entered the job market, and was employed for a while at Rich’s. The next stop was a series of clerical jobs in the Emory University library, interrupted by two years in the Army during the Korean war.

Overcome by an uncharacteristic fit of ambition, Walter decided to go back to school and get a master's degree in French. This led eventually to a teaching job at Mary Washington College of the University ofVirginia, and graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It was while he was a student at UNC that Walter was confirmed in the Episcopal Church. This was the culmination of a long period of questioning in matters of religion. Brought up as a Southern Baptist, Walter had been profoundly disturbed in his early college experiences by academe’s challenges to the fundamentalist point of view--indeed, to the religious point of view--and found the Catholic tradition a source of strength and reassurance. Although he had gone so far as to be instructed by a Roman Catholic priest, he was not able to accept some basic Roman doctrines, and settled somewhat gingerly (these were the times of the late Bishop Pike’s notoriety) in the Episcopal Church. Liturgical worship provided a sense of the corporate reality of the Church.

Several years of study and part-time teaching at Chapel Hill were punctuated by a sojourn in France as a Fullbright scholar (1959-60), which he spent in Poitiers at its graduate center for medieval studies. In 1962, he was awarded a doctorate in Old French, having prepared a dissertation under the direction of Urban Holmes. During his residence in Chapel Hill, Walter met and courted the young woman (Martha Jane Gilreath) whom he married late in the summer of 1962. The couple set up housekeeping in Macon, Georgia, where Walter taught French and Spanish at Wesleyan College, and Martha taught music in the public schools. Three years later, the Bishop family, which now included the couple’s first son, Bryan, moved to Atlanta. Here, Walter taught French at Georgia State and Martha played cello in the Atlanta Symphony. Both jobs ended in 1970, and Walter tried to teach himself to make stringed instruments (thereby learning at first hand the justification for the apprenticeship system) while Martha supported them for a year teaching cello. The family now included a daughter, Paula, born in 1966.

Ultimately, Walter wound up with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, serving first in the public information office and then in the air pollution control program. Martha, after holding positions teaching music at DeKalb College and West Georgia College, took up free-lancing as a cellist, and also pursued her interest in early music (music of the Renaissance and Baroque periods). Earlier, she had so pestered Walter to make her a harpsi- chord that he had given in, building one from a Zuckerman kit. Walter got serious about making harpsichords in the early 1970’s, when the Zuckerman firm started offering kits based closely on historical designs. This activity satisfied Walter's desire to make something concrete and drew support from his lifelong passion for music. He has now made more than a score of harpsichords, most from kits, but a couple “from scratch.” This has had its rewards, of course, as well as its drawbacks-- harpsichords do tend to clutter up one's house. At one time the Bishops' modest house near Druid Hills High School was encumbered by no less than five harpsichords at once! This can be a serious matter in a household where everyone is a collector, including younger son Gregory, born in 1974.

In 1986, convinced that the Episcopal Church was “off the rails” in the areas of doctrine and morality, Walter joined St. Hilda’s, shortly before the Parish affiliated with the Anglican Catholic Church. And not too long after that, he took up the role of organist when the regular organist went abroad and failed to return when expected. After the death of Fr. Hoger in 1999, he became Parish treasurer when Fr. Davis, the Priest-in-Charge, asked for a volunteer to fill that position.

Retired from EPA since 1989, Walter spends much of his time as a general handyman around the house his family has lived in since 1965, and as a bookkeeper for Martha’s varied musical enterprises.