Sep 13, 2010

Ron Walters was a man on a mission.

Whether working on a book about President Barack Obama, granting interviews about TV personality Glenn Beck's rally at the Lincoln Memorial or schooling reporters about the exacting details of interpreting polls and the real intention behind political machinations, the dedicated and highly respected scholar, strategist and teacher worked almost constantly to educate as many people as he could about the importance and practical consequences of public policy in the African-American community.

Constantly working, Walters seemed to be akin to the Energizer Bunny - just going and going, driven to complete every task he had assigned himself.

So it was stunning news over the weekend that Ronald W. Walters, a longtime professor of political science at Howard University and the University of Maryland and intellectual on issues of race, public policy and civil rights, had died Friday in a Bethesda, Maryland hospital of lung cancer at age 72.

Many of his closest associates didn't even know Walters was ill.

"I'm always happy to talk to you, but this one is hard," Roger Wilkins, a retired history professor who served as an assistant attorney general during Lyndon Johnson's administration, told on Saturday, just minutes after learning of Walters' death.

Wilkins and Walters worked together as advisers in Jesse Jackson's 1984 presidential run.

"Ron's contributions to the campaign were consistent and consistently valuable," Wilkins said. "Over the years, Ron and I got to be quite friendly and appeared on platforms" to discuss political issues at rallies and on Sunday morning news programs.

"Ron was there with his facts and his figures, and he was a very fine political scientist ... but there's something more about Ron," said Wilkins. "He certainly was not a non-partisan. He was a race man, and it was certainly more than his job for him - even more than for most of the people in the movement because he was a black intellectual in the mold of Dr. DuBois. He knew he had a great mind. His product was terrific, and he was going to use it in the service of black people."

Walters, said Democratic political strategist and commentator Donna Brazile, was "one of the most brilliant political science professors in the country. He co-authored the 1988 (Democratic National Convention) platform and rule changes."

His strategies, which helped end the winner-take-all delegate count during primary contests – bringing Jackson in second to eventual Democratic nominee, Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts – are also credited with helping Barack Obama win the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000, paving the way for him to win the presidency.

Jackson told The Afro-American newspaper that Howard University recently had talked Walters into coming out of retirement to teach there, and that Walters had been looking forward to it.

Jackson, who said he visited Walters several times in the hospital over the last few weeks, called him a "scholar activist" and "a genius," as well as friend and mentor.

"He's [Walters] the tallest tree in the forest of activists, political scientists," Jackson said in an interview with the Afro. "I miss him so much already."

Walters earned a bachelor's degree in history and government from Fisk and a masters in African Studies and a Ph.D in International Studies from American University.

He spent 25 years as a professor and chairman of the political science department at Howard University before going to the University of Maryland, where he was director of the African-American Leadership Institute.


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