Who: Walter’s longtime friend and the kitchen manager at Studebaker’s, Walter’s bar/restaurant.
Breakdown: Along with Ginny Quirk and Kimm Tucker, Conley was one of the few people to form a genuinely tight relationship with Walter Payton.
Conley worked as the kitchen manager at Studebaker’s, and Walter came to confide in her. Part of that, Conley noted, was that they were two of the few African-Americans associated with the restaurant. But more than anything, Conley was blunt and honest and unwilling to bow toward the God that was Sweetness. She called him out, mocked him, talked straight when he was behaving evasively.
Pearlman’s take: Hmm … this is an odd one. I initially met Linda at a hotel in Suburban Chicago—and I actually stormed out of the interview (Somewhat common behavior for a subject; a rarity for a writer). I don’t even remember why, just that, after 20 minutes, we were barking at one another.
Linda and I reconnected months later, and she was great. We formed a genuine trust, I believe, and Linda and I have spoken many times in the ensuing weeks. Linda loved Walter, but—like Quirk and Tucker and some others—is mystified by the way his life has been presented. “He was a real person,” she told me. “Why not be real about it?”
Linda is in the process of working on her own Payton-related book project.
From Sweetness: “The number of women was dizzying,” said Linda Conley, Walter’s longtime friend and the kitchen manager at Studebaker’s. “I loved Walter, but I’d always tell his girlfriends, ‘He’ll never be yours, so why waste your time?’ He knew he was doing wrong, but it was a challenge to him: How many women could he land? “My daughter Tyra was really into football, and she just adored Walter. Well, one day we walk into Studebaker’s and there he was, kissing some blond girl. Tyra couldn’t believe it. She was devastated. But that was Walter—you either accepted his behavior or you moved on.”