By Hazel Trice Edney, NNPA Editor-in-Chief –
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – He was a political analyst, a professor, a lecturer, a strategist, a mentor, a commentator, a thought leader, a Black Press columnist, a husband and a friend. And he did it all while remaining true to his life’s passion as an advocate for the progress and advancement of Black people. Dr. Ron Walters died of lung cancer Sept. 10, shocking many in the civil rights community who were unaware of the extent of his illness.
“Dr. Ron Walters was the preeminent activist and scholar of our times,” says the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who visited with Walters in the hospital during his final days and will deliver the eulogy next week. Funeral services were incomplete at NNPA deadline.
“He was my issues director in my ’84 and ’88 campaigns. Ron led a sit-in in 1958 as a student NAACP youth leader two years before the 1960 sit-ins in Greensboro. He wrote six books and thousands of articles…We learned to lean on Ron Walters for our frame of reference,” said Jackson. “Today we’re number one in athletics and number one in presidential politics; but also number one in poverty. We’re number one in infant mortality, short life expectancy and in unemployment. Ron kept us abreast of that data. The good news is that Ron taught so many scholars. There are those who will now bear truth. So, that tradition will be kept alive.”
Walters, who submitted his last NNPA column – “…March for Jobs and Justice Where Ever You Are” - to the NNPA News Service on August 16, continued to conduct interviews and phone conferences from his hospital room, Jackson said. “He never stopped giving of himself.”
Former NNPA Editor-in-Chief George Curry, who edited Walters’ column for seven years and also covered him for decades, described him as “a brilliant, dedicated, consistent and unapologetic warrior for African-Americans. While he is best known for teaching at Howard and the University of Maryland, advising Jesse Jackson and the Congressional Black Caucus, he spent many hours sharing his expertise with small, largely unknown community groups. Black American has lost a scholar whose life exemplified excellence.”
News releases honoring Walters’ legacy were plentiful from top Black leaders and Walters associates around the country. They include Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee; NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous; president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.
But, his greatest tributes came from his wife of 47 years, Patricia Ann Walters, a retired social worker.
“He had a diverse, multi-dimensional character to himself in terms of teaching, mentoring, working in the grassroots communities to assist them in any way he could; doing many, many, many things throughout his distinguished career for no pay whatsoever because he had this deep love and affection for the work that he was doing for African-Americans in particular. And he was their spokesperson,” Mrs. Walters said in an interview with the NNPA News Service Sunday morning. “That was his calling. …The African-American community stopped and listened because they understand that the messenger was with clean hands and was telling the truth and always on message and never, never deviated from his message. He never backtracked. You always knew that if you got an interview from him, if you got him on TV, he was going to be consistent with his message and he did that for over four decades.”
Mrs. Walters said her husband had pressed beyond the amount of time the doctors expected him to live. As the cancer spread into his lungs and he was told the end was near, he remained heartened by new accomplishments. He was especially happy about a renewed lecturing relationship with Howard University, where he once served as chair of the Political Science Department before becoming a professor at the University of Maryland.
“As a son of Howard, he never left the Capstone. It was always home,” said Howard’s President Sidney A. Ribeau in a statement. “We are deeply grateful for his enormous contributions to our university, to the field and to the nation. We will truly miss his measured voice and his strategic mind, but his insightful wisdom will endure through the lives he touched.”
Walters was slated to give his first speech at Howard under the new contract on Sept. 9, but he was too ill and died the next day at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md.
Mrs. Walters said he simply wanted to give everything he could; so he kept quiet about his illness in order not to dissuade people from asking for his services.
“He wanted to be able to continue his work, which he did at the very, very last moment. That’s the way he was,” she said. “He wanted to go about his business and have people to treat him like they always treated him in not knowing that he had been battling cancer for six years.”
Walters helped to lay the groundwork for the formation of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1970.
“Professor Walters was a scholarly giant and was one of America’s most insightful analysts of the political landscape, in general, and of the intersection of race, politics and policy, specifically,” said CBC Chairwoman Lee. “His scholarly work and sound advice have assisted many past and present members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and other African American political and civic leaders around the country.”
Walters was born in Wichita on July 20, 1938. He graduated with honors from Fisk University and earned a Masters in African studies and a doctorate in International Studies from American University. He also taught at Georgetown, Syracuse, and Brandeis.
Mrs. Walters said several public memorials will be held, but plans were incomplete.
“We knew that it was an uphill battle. He was such a tremendous fighter and doctors knew that he’d live long beyond what the expectation was. I think he was able to accomplish that because the vast majority of people did not know how sick Ron was when he did things for people and spoke and went on television and conducted radio and television interviews and newspaper interviews. That’s the way he wanted it. And I think he did it with style, elegance and dignity. That is Ron.”
Jackson marveled at the loving relationship between Walters and his wife.
“He stayed close to his wife, Patty, who he loved so much,” he said, noting how she was his greatest encourager.
Jackson said, “He never stopped fighting for a fair and just and comprehensive urban policy to lift up and change the plight of Black people. And that was classical Ron. And at the end, even at the very end, even as he struggled, at the very end, his sensitivity to our constituency, the love of his wife remains such a thing of beauty.”
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