When he was a student at South Park High School in the 1940s, Joe Conley’s friends jokingly called him “Hollywood Joe.”
“I always had a flair for the dramatic and was involved in plays and shows, but I think they meant it sarcastically,” he said.
That flair eventually led Conley to an acting career in Hollywood where he became best known for his role on the long-running series “The Waltons.”
Conley died Sunday at 85. The Los Angeles Times reported that according to his wife, Louise Conley, he died at a care facility in Southern California. She said he had suffered from dementia.
Conley had bit parts on 1960s series such as “Green Acres” and “The Beverly Hillbillies” before he landed a role on CBS’ “The Waltons” in 1972 that would last nearly a decade.
He played Ike Godsey, postmaster and owner of the Jefferson County general store frequented by the Walton family in Depression-era Virginia.
He would appear in 172 episodes over nine seasons and in TV movie reunions that lasted into the 1990s
In 2001, Conley returned to his hometown to join more than 300 people who attended South Buffalo ’40s Annual Stag at Fontana’s Picnic Grove for those who grew up in the 1940s.
In an interview with News Staff Reporter Tom Ernst, Conley said he enjoyed coming back to visit his hometown and showing his children the house on Whitfield Avenue where he grew up.
“South Buffalo was a nice place to grow up,” he said at the time, “and while the main streets have changed a lot, it’s amazing how the side streets haven’t changed.”
After graduating from South Park in 1945, he moved to California with his mother and started college, only to have his fledgling dramatic career interrupted, in Ernst’s words, “by a command performance courtesy of Uncle Sam and a three-year role in the Army.”
He did not serve in World War II but was called back into the service for the Korean War and was awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest military honor, for valor.
He was a second lieutenant serving as a forward observer, spotting enemy positions and calling in artillery, he said.
His unit was under heavy attack when a colonel jumped into Conley’s foxhole and asked him the situation. The next thing Conley knew, the colonel had run up the hill and was waving for the others to follow.
Conley summoned the two enlisted men who were with him, and they went up the hill, too.
“The colonel was literally blown apart in front of us, and all three of us were wounded,” said Conley, displaying a bent finger.
“I don’t see myself as a hero,” he said at the time. “[The colonel] was. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”