Walter was a Birmingham merchant, the husband of May Suffield, and the father of Mary and Marjorie. He was in his early thirties when Tolkien was born, and he provided a small financial help to Mabel when her children were young.
His business interests were in gold and diamond mines, and he travelled to Africa to visit the mining areas, leaving his wife and Marjorie at Bank House with the Tolkiens. When his family came home, he stayed in Africa for another few years.
Walter considered himself a pillar of the local Anglican church, and he was horrified when he returned to England and found that May had converted to Catholicism. He forbade her ever to set foot in a Catholic church again, and cut off Mabel’s financial aid. However, he did relent slightly, and provided the Tolkien boys with a small allowance after their father’s death.