Walter Flint, a well known radio personality and minister, poses with his holiday lights, which were last displayed in 2009. Flint will talk about Christmases past Thursday at Thronateeska Heritage Center. (Albany Herald file photo)
ALBANY — If anyone is an expert on Christmases past, it’s Walter Flint.
Flint, who is now 90, has seen the holiday evolve all the way from his childhood in pre-Depression days. And for 52 years in a 53-year span from 1957 to 2009, his home on West Third Avenue was a popular yuletide spot to visit. His house was outlined with 10,000 pilot lights normally used in radio dials that were soldered onto the wiring. A couple of years later, he added a Santa sitting in a convertible — first an MG, then a Porsche — outlined with lights, a tradition that he kept up even though the first St. Nick was Santa-napped by some guys who definitely made the naughty list.
At 6 p.m. Thursday, he’ll headline an event at Thronateeska Heritage Center titled, “Christmas Past — An Evening With Walter Flint.”
“I’m going to talk about Christmases I have known,” Flint said Friday. “I’ve spent Christmas in several different countries, and it’ll be fun.”
In fact, the only two continents that Flint hasn’t stepped foot on are South America and Antarctica. His use of soldered radio bulbs began in India when he was denied a request for conventional Christmas lights. He requisitioned 1,000 of the radio bulbs, wired them to a copper wire and placed them on what was more of a scruffy bush than it was a tree.
“I’ve been around the world. I was a poor boy, but the Army put me in a job where I had to move around and I enjoyed it,” he said. “But Christmas is so different. It’s about the only time that we get anywhere near the other (denominations) and celebrate something.”
In addition to the display that was commemorated in 2007 — the only year he skipped during his run — in the series of Christmas ornaments created by Easter Seals of Southwest Georgia, Flint is remembered by many at Christmastime for his “Letters to Santa” that he read on the air at WGPC radio. When he came to Albany after World War II, it was one of two radio stations on town that battled it out for listeners.
“I came here in 1948 from New Jersey, and this town, you just wouldn’t know it from then. It was just so lovely. Radium Springs was just blossoming. People had no money, but we had a wonderful time.”
The “beautiful music” of WGPC is long gone from Albany airwaves.
“The noise terrible” on radio stations these days, he said. “It’s not music anymore.”
On the other hand, Flint said he was impressed by the progress at Thronateeska, especially with its state-of-the-art planetarium. Flint will speak there after a showing of “Season of Lights,” the Wetherbee Planetarium’s annual holiday show that explores astronomical meanings behind seasonal traditions, including the Star of Bethlehem.
“The new building, I saw it for the first time at lunch Wednesday,” he said. “It’s marvelous. It’s really fine.”
While Flint retired at age 55, he’s never quit working. An ordained minister, he is pastor at two Presbyterian churches — one in Fort Gaines, the other in Elmodel. Every weekend, he makes the 200-mile trek to from his home to his congregations and back.
“I’ve been at Elmodel 59 years,” he noted. “Nobody believes it, but it’s true. Fifty-nine years is a long time. It’s a credit to the people, not the pastor.”
After all his years on radio and in the pulpit, you’d think that Flint had already exhausted his storehouse of stories. Not so, he said.
“I had a really funny experience in Georgia that I’ll tell them about,” he said. “I’ve never revealed it on the air because it’s not entirely suitable.”
The program starts at 6 p.m. Planetarium admission — $3.50 per person, plus tax — applies to those who are not Thronateeska members. The center is located at 100 Roosevelt Ave.