Most of us knew him as a white-bearded member of a fictional Scottish guard at the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing.
He played that role for 25 years at the PGA Tour event on Hilton Head Island, dressed in a red tartan kilt, white shirt and yellow tie beneath long white hair and beard.
He walked near the front of the opening parade and followed the leaders on Sunday. In between, he was seen all over the course, meeting and greeting the public.
Up North, he was known as Santa Claus, an obvious fit for the role he played for two decades at the upscale Westfarms mall near Hartford, Conn.
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But his real claim to fame was as a musician, primarily a lead guitarist, vocalist and songwriter who played all the island’s live-music venues: the Old Post Office Emporium, Wingo’s, the Quarterdeck.
Everyone knew him as Wally Duke.
He passed away on July 13 at age 64 in Attica, Mich., near his hometown of Lapeer. It came a month after being diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic and liver cancer. From the obituary, we learned that his real name was William Benjamin “Bill” Murray.
His brother Bob says Wally Duke was a fictional character they made up in high school to somehow help them raise money for their hockey team.
David Powell, now of Columbia, was Duke’s best friend on Hilton Head.
“His personality allowed him to fit in with the governor of South Carolina at the tournament or a table full of musicians relaxing late at night,” Powell said. “No matter what the situation, he made everybody around him feel comfortable.”
Duke married young, and he and his ex-wife had two sons. He left Michigan in 1987, saying he didn’t know exactly where he was going, but he knew he was headed to the warmer South.
He found a fit on Hilton Head, where he could play golf almost every day and thrive musically.
He drove a 1966 Chevrolet Suburban forever, a gargantuan vehicle painted blue over its original state highway department yellow. It had well more than 400,000 miles on it when the frame rusted through. His brother said he had wanted to get it to 500,000 miles and drive it to GM headquarters in Detroit to ask for a new one.
“He drove down the expressway at 45 miles per hour because it wouldn’t go any faster,” Bob Murray said. “He was always getting the finger from somebody.”
Powell can’t count the times he helped Duke load his Hammond B2 organ into the Suburban. “It had to weigh 1,000 pounds,” he said.
He said Duke knew the lyrics to 3,000 songs and could entertain audiences of any description.
Duke set up a recording studio in a home near Charleston he bought to be near his son, Josh, as he was being treated at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Powell said Duke would record all the instruments individually then mix the recordings so the CD sounded like a six-piece band.
“He could play guitar, banjo, piano, organ, anything with strings on it,” Powell said.
Others said Duke gave advice to young people on what it takes to be a professional musician, including Hannah Wicklund of The Steppin Stones.
He and Powell organized a golf tournament to raise money for his son’s medical expenses. The Wally Duke/Josh Murray Invitational was played at Rose Hill in Bluffton for a number of years before moving north to Lapeer, raising money for MUSC after Josh recovered.
Duke played the Scottish guard role through the 2016 Heritage tournament. Over the years, he worked the tournament with his bearded high school friend, Skip Voss, or his son, Josh.
Duke talked about his unusual life in a 2001 interview with Jim Shea of the Hartford Courant in an article about their “Southern Santa.”
“I’d like to succeed as a full-time musician,” Duke told him. “But at this point, chances aren’t good someone in the music business is going to want to sink a lot of money into an older guy.
“So maybe this Santa Claus thing and the Scottish guard thing will mushroom into something, like television commercials. If you’re going to get old and worn out and ugly anyway, you might as well use it to your advantage.
“You never know what is going to happen. You should never rule anything out. And if this is what it’s going to be, then this is what it’s going to be.”