- The Washington Times - Monday, August 25, 2003

Colin Walters, the literary critic and editor of the books pages of The Washington Times since its founding 21 years ago, died last night at the home of his daughter in Rockville. He had battled cancer for more than a year and continued to edit his pages until his condition dramatically worsened earlier this month. He was 65.

Though not an academic — he was largely self-educated — books and the life of the mind always were central for him. He came to journalism late and to a newspaper struggling to establish itself, and put his books pages among the most influential in the country.

“Colin Walters over the years put together a books section that ranks in quality with that of any newspaper in America,” Wesley Pruden, editor in chief of The Times, said last night. “His contributions have been conspicuous. We will miss his quiet dedication to his craft and his old friends here will miss his warmth and unfailing civility. He was a gentleman, faithful to standards in a world grown often cold to taste, refinement and gentle kindness.”

Mr. Walters was born at Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, southwest England, and attended local elementary and grammar (high) schools. He began his “higher education,” when in 1955, as he put it, he took “the queen’s shilling” by enlisting in the British army on the eve of the aborted Suez campaign.

He spent nine years as a soldier, concluding with a three-year tour of duty at the British Embassy in Washington. He returned to England to be discharged and emigrated almost at once with his wife and two children to the United States. This, he had decided while stationed here, was the country where he wanted to live.

Over the next eight years he worked at a variety of jobs in the federal War on Poverty programs and their successors, and became a specialist in budget and public-policy analysis. For the next six years, he was a researcher-writer and administrator at the Washington Center for Metropolitan Studies (now the Greater Washington Research Center), an early metropolitan-studies think tank. He was assistant city administrator for fiscal management during Marion Barry’s first term as mayor of Washington.

But books were his avocation throughout his adult life. During his army service, he had taken correspondence courses in English literature and ancient history through Oxford University’s Wolsey Hall.

During these years he read avidly and, in the early 1970s, the old Washington Star began publishing his book reviews — his first appearances in print. When The Washington Times was founded in 1982, several editors from the shuttered Star who had joined the new paper invited him to edit the books pages, to work under the late Anne Crutcher, the first editor of the editorial page. For the first several years, Mr. Walters each week contributed one or often two reviews, which then constituted the newspaper’s entire coverage of books.

As The Times grew, Mr. Walters’ responsibility expanded to include a full section for which he selected books and assigned them for review, edited the copy, and did the many chores required while continuing his weekly essays. The section expanded eventually, with an assistant editor, to the three full pages every Sunday.

As he developed literary contacts, Mr. Walters presented reviews by distinguished writers and scholars, both in the United States and from abroad. His meticulous editing increased his reputation and that of the newspaper. He worked with younger and less experienced writers — paying back, he said, the attention he had enjoyed when breaking into journalism.

Mr. Walters was a reader with wide interests, and his reviews spanned a literary spectrum — fiction and history, biography, criticism and culture. He often wrote about topics new and challenging to him. His prose, remarked Associate Editor Woody West, “exemplified the dignified affability that characterized him as an individual.”

He was active in the District’s Library Theatre Inc., serving on its board of directors and as treasurer. He was an accomplished cook and played classical piano. Mr. Walters is survived by a daughter, Dr. Nicola Sater, of Rockville; a son, Ian Walters of Silver Spring; a sister, Rosemary Vernon, and a niece, Katherine Vernon, both of England. Two marriages ended in divorce. A longtime friend, Marisa Bronfman, was with him at the hour of death.

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