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Belvedere businessman Walter Strycker's work with DeLorean included boosting iconic car to short-lived success

Late Belvedere resident Walter Strycker helped John DeLorean raise more than $200 million to kickstart production of DeLorean’s namesake sports car, which became a short-lived icon of the early 1980s and appeared in the film ‘Back to the Future.’ (Elliot Karlan archive / For The Ark 2019)

Belvedere resident Walter Strycker, a prolific businessman whose accomplishments included raising more than $200 million to kickstart production of the iconic DeLorean sports car made popular in the “Back to the Future” movies, died Jan. 16. He was 95.

 

As CFO for the DeLorean Motor Co., he also helped secure millions in grants from the British government to build a car manufacturing plant in Northern Ireland at the height of The Troubles, the violent conflict over the partition of Northern Ireland from the rest of the island.




He abruptly parted ways with DeLorean in 1979, just as the factory started rolling out the futuristic-looking car by the thousands. Stryker said he left on moral grounds after he found out John DeLorean had taken money from private investors and the British government for personal use. He was later interviewed for the 2021 Netflix docuseries “Myth & Mogul: John DeLorean,” about DeLorean, his namesake car and the company’s downfall.

 

However, Strycker’s stint there was just one facet of a diverse business career. He founded the computer company Decimus in 1969 as part of a joint venture with Bank of America, to which he sold the company after a year. He also spent a brief time in 1977 funding film production at MGM Studios, and later focused on buying failing businesses and turning them around before selling them for a profit, including a Puerto Rican commuter airline and some 164 Marie Callender’s Restaurant & Bakery locations.

 

“He was just the ultimate businessman because he did a lot of endeavors in business,” said daughter Jana Strycker of Mill Valley. “He actually wanted to talk about business up until the day he died, almost.”

 

Walter Pierce Strycker Jr. was born Oct. 23, 1928, in San Francisco to dentist Walter Pierce Strycker Sr. and Alice Smith. He had one older sister, Claire. Strycker’s father died when he was 4, and he and Claire were raised by their mother and grandmother, Katrina.

 

He graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School and earned a degree in business from the University of California at Berkeley in 1951. He served in the U.S. Air Force. In a 2013 interview with the Mill Valley Literary Review, he recounted flying in a four-engine B-29 Superfortress that had a bad prop and no landing gear and crashed at Hamilton Field in Novato. It was the first of several crashes he survived throughout his life, including another in Puerto Rico while overseeing the commuter airline, a helicopter crash and more than a dozen car crashes, including one in which he was thrown 120 feet from a convertible on Skyline Boulevard.

 

In 1953, Strycker married his wife, Connie, and the couple had two daughters, Jana and Karen Strycker Roth, who now lives in Larkspur.

 

Strycker was a “very quiet” but “very smart” man, Connie said, adding that she loved his mind and the two often discussed politics and world events.

 

The same year the couple wed, Strycker began his career at IBM in product development, which led to domestic and world trade with Chevron and ExxonMobil.

 

The family lived in Orinda before moving to Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1964. They returned to Orinda in 1968, when Strycker founded Decimus, before moving to suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1972, when Strycker began working for Wheelabrator-Frye Inc., a company since acquired by Waste Management Inc. He and a team of 50 engineers worked at car and coal plants nationwide to minimize air pollution.

 

Strycker and his family moved to Belvedere’s West Shore Road about 1977, and soon after Strycker landed a job with John DeLorean’s car company, traveling between Belvedere and New York to help it find a location for its auto plant. Strycker’s predecessor at DeLorean, Bob Dewey, had looked at Puerto Rico, but Strycker considered San Diego, Alabama and Spain before finally settling on the Belfast suburb of Dunmurry.

 

The plant, which employed 2,000 people, was built between Catholic and Protestant housing developments and had separate entrances for those workers. Catholics in Northern Ireland faced higher levels of unemployment than their Protestant counterparts, Strycker told The Ark in 2019. In 1981, when the car first rolled out of the factory, more than 25% of Catholics in Northern Ireland were unemployed, compared to about 11% of Protestants, according to census data referenced in The Economic and Social Review in 1986.

 

“It was such a major impact on Ireland and Northern Ireland at the time,” Strycker said. “This was going to be the first real product coming out of Northern Ireland since the Titanic.”



Connie said her husband found it “so interesting” that “during The Troubles, they’d be fighting and, you know, shooting each other, but when they went to work, they all laughed and thought it was great, and they all … had a great time playing soccer together.”

 

Strycker left DeLorean Motor Co. in 1979 when he learned DeLorean was defrauding investors and the British government out of tens of millions of dollars. Strycker told The Ark in 2019 that the decision didn’t sit right with him, so he approached the company’s lawyer, who suggested he look the other way. Strycker then told the accounting firm, but it didn’t act.

 

“They talked to John and he denied it, and they believed him. They didn’t believe me,” Strycker said. “I didn’t want to make a scene, so I left.”

 

DeLorean, who died in 2005, was caught in a 1982 FBI drug-trafficking sting, which sank the company, and was later charged with defrauding investors and evading taxes. He was acquitted in both cases.

 

Strycker’s decision to leave the company and the factory hurt him deeply, his wife and daughter said.

 

“If he were alive today, he’d be sitting there telling you, ‘It just broke my heart,’” Connie said.

 

She said she asked Strycker why he made the decision to speak up, and he told her, “I don’t want to be the one to go to jail” and that he refused to sign off on the company’s flawed financials.

 

Strycker also spent time as a film financer, telling the Mill Valley Literary Review that he helped finance 1974’s “The Longest Yard,” starring Burt Reynolds. He later went on to buy commuter airlines and Marie Callender’s restaurants, telling The Ark that turning the restaurants around for a profit was the hardest and most enjoyable work he had ever done.

 

After beating prostate cancer in 1993, Strycker retired and focused on his hobbies. He was an avid golfer, having taken up the sport at age 16, and won several tournaments at the Orinda Country Club. Connie and Jana both noted his admiration for Arnold Palmer, who in the 1950s broke onto the scene from a working-class background and as a man of the people.

 

Strycker was able to play at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, home of the annual Masters Tournament, which made him “overwhelmed with happiness,” Connie said.

 

He was also a member of the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco and loved cars, Jana said. He owned a yellow Jaguar XKE when the family lived in Pittsburgh, had a Mercedes-Benz SL model and tinkered with an old Austin-Healey in his spare time.

 

Connie said her husband always stood up for what he believed in, and Jana noted her father was able to bring the family together during family crises and arguments “with incredible words of meaning.”

 

“He was so articulate and to the point with heart and soul, which is why I think people love him,” Jana said.

 

In addition to his wife and daughters, Strycker is survived by grandchildren Quinton, Preston and Gregory. He was preceded in death by his parents and his sister, Claire Golden, who died in 2020.

 

A private memorial service will be held in Hawaii, which relatives said was Strycker’s favorite place.

 

Reach Francisco Martinez at 415-944-4634.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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