Ron Walters - A Scholar and a Gentle Man
By Jualianne Malveaux
Ron Walters was a gentle man. Yes, he was brilliant, insightful, a political genius with a passionate love for African American people and for our advancement. But he was also gentle and kind in a way that many with genius are not. He balanced life skillfully, caring for issues, but also for people. He was my friend, sometime my partner in activism. I will miss him.
Indeed, I cannot adequately express my disbelief upon learning of his death. He was sick, and in these last months, even frail. We were together when Dr. Ron Daniels convened a Capital Hill meeting of the Shirley Chisholm Commission on Presidential Accountability, a group on which Ron Walters and I both served. He came in, looking a bit thinner than usual, with a voice softer than usual, and when I voiced concern, he said he had been ill. While there was evidence of illness in his physical countenance, there was none in his spoken presentation. Indeed, he was awesomely incisive in raising questions about issues of accountability and questions that must be raised to judge the Obama Administration. Always fair, he was also clear that the Chisholm Commission was not about holding this administration to a harsher standard than any other. Indeed, he was clear that accountability is something that is to be expected of any leader.
On Saturday morning, at the National Council of Negro Women prayer breakfast, the gathering was abuzz with news of Ron’s Friday evening death, voices somber and shaken at the magnitude of our loss. We have lost a phenomenal analyst, a caring advocate, an inspirational mentor, and a dazzling teacher. Ron Walters was not only a leader; he was an adviser of leaders. His relationship with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose 1984 and 1988 campaigns he played pivotal roles in, is an example of the groundbreaking work he has done, both as a political scientist and as a political activist. At the NCNW breakfast, someone asked how long I’d known Ron Walters. After some reflection, I had to reply that I simply didn’t know.
I do remember a call from him, though, back in 1984. We didn’t know each other well, then. I was a professor in San Francisco and had been involved in the Jackson campaign. He was one of the campaign leaders and keeping things together. One of the San Francisco radio stations had asked that a Jackson, Mondale, and Hart representative do a morning conversation each day during the convention about its happenings. Ron Walters asked me if I’d speak for Rev. Jackson and I, of course, enthusiastically agreed. I’m as volatile as Ron is calm, so after my first radio appearance I got some coaching on how to “tone it down”. The coaching was offered so gently that it had to be considered. I still chuckle at the memory.
We worked together, again, during the 1988 Jackson campaign. I’m not sure what all Ron Walters had me doing, but I remember both writing about the convention and running from one meeting to another to be helpful to the campaign. Our paths continued to criss cross over the years, more so when I moved to Washington in 1994 and we saw each other more frequently. We presented on panels together, worked on causes together, and sometimes connected just because each of us needed to bounce ideas off a like-minded colleague. Whether we spoke one on one or in a group, my recollection is that Ron had plenty to say and was measured in how he said it. Again, the word “gentle” comes to mind.
Our gentle friend left a legacy of excellent and thorough political analysis. He was more than a political analyst and teacher, though. He was the “scholar activist” that WEB DuBois so often spoke of, the person who takes information and data and uses it to empower a people. Ron Walters was not about the bloodless political analysis that manipulated numbers to come up with results. Nor was he about the passionate pronouncements some pundits offer that often come out of nowhere. Instead, he balanced the two with gentle grace. He cared about black people, about inequality and injustice. He cared about historically black colleges and universities. (A graduate of Fisk University, he spent much of his career at Howard University. When we last spoke, he was considering an invite to come to speak at Bennett College for Women in the spring). We will miss his gentle caring. We will miss a gentle man. And we are so very aware of how blessed the African American community has been to have him with us for the 72 years of his amazing life.
Former Southern Regional Council Board Member Ron Walters - who served as director of the African American Leadership Institute and Scholar Practitioner Program and Distinguished Leadership Scholar at the James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership, and respected professor in government and politics at the University of Maryland - passed away on September 10, 2010.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is an economist, author and commentator and the fifteenth President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.