Walter Dozier, who died last week, too soon, just a few days shy of his 61st birthday, was an unlikely political junkie. He was at heart an educator, a philosopher king. I always called him a Renaissance Man.
He is perhaps best known in Maryland for his years working for Jack Johnson, first in Johnson’s press shop, later as his education liaison. Up until his death, he worked for the African-American cultural center and museum that is trying to get off the ground in Prince George’s County.
And he worked by my side in Annapolis for a few years, covering Maryland and Prince George’s politics for the Gazette Newspapers.
He came to the Gazette in 1999, in the midst of a mid-life transition. After a long career as a sportswriter for the Tampa Tribune, Walter felt the call of academia, and earned a Ph.D in cultural anthropology. He moved to Prince George’s County to live near his brother and look for a college teaching job in the Washington area. Instead, he landed at the Gazette, covering social services at first before being assigned to Annapolis.
I was proud to serve as Walter’s tutor on Maryland politics – and he taught me about pretty much everything else. We had a lot of fun and a lot of adventures together.
I think the venality of politics was an eye opener for Walter. He had grown disenchanted with sports and said that after a while he only really enjoyed women’s basketball, because it was the game in its purest form. He never found such purity in politics.
Walter was a deeply religious man, but he was nevertheless skeptical of organized religion. Once, in the State House, I heard him explaining to someone that the “WWJD?” on his lanyard stood for “What Would Josh Do?” That made me laugh – and it still does today.
There were times during legislative sessions when it seemed like I was running around the State House reporting while Walter stayed behind in the press room, holding forth on a thousand different topics. But that was Walter – he drove me crazy sometimes, but I loved him just the same.
And he was an incredible asset to the paper. He broadened and deepened our coverage of Prince George’s County. He wrote excellent profiles of women and minority lobbyists and staffers in the State House who were usually overlooked by other reporters.
Just before his corruption trial with Gerry Evans, Del. Tony Fulton granted his only interview to the Gazette, thanks to Walter’s legwork. As is my wont, I was convinced Fulton was guilty and that talking to him wouldn’t yield much. But Walter felt it would make a good human interest story, and he was right.
In a long and memorable day in Baltimore, Fulton took us to his childhood home and the barbershop where he got his hair cut. He told us about attending Passover Seders with Bruce Bereano and about being a graduate student of Parris Glendening’s. He showed us where Kurt Schmoke, Martin O’Malley, Pete Rawlings and Salima Siler Marriott lived. In what now seems like an incredible allocation of resources for a newspaper, the Gazette let both of us cover the trial full time (Evans was convicted, Fulton acquitted).
In 2002, though he preferred Rushern Baker – I don’t think I’m betraying any confidences here – Walter went to work for Jack Johnson. I thought Johnson was overrated and a phony, but Walter saw good in him. He thought Johnson was sincere and plugged in to important elements of the community. Most of all, Walter saw working for Johnson as a way to serve his beloved Prince George’s County. Neither of us imagined that Johnson was a thief.
A few years ago, when I taught a journalism ethics course at College Park, Walter was the most popular guest lecturer of the semester. He kept the students spellbound, talking about gender and racial biases among journalists – and readers. He really made them think.
Walter, who rarely talked about himself, also slipped in a poignant personal anecdote, about being given a copy editing test for one of his first jobs in journalism, only to learn later that none of his white colleagues had been required to take such a test. In that one appearance I saw the great professor Walter could have become.
But Walter was, no matter what he did in his life, an educator. What he cared about more than anything was ensuring that children of color got a decent education, and the support systems they needed, in their homes and communities, to succeed in school and in life. He was always encouraging kids – and adults, for that matter – to read and write and expand their horizons.
Walter became disenchanted with Jack Johnson as the years went on and left the administration when Johnson had about two years left in his term. He felt that Jack and Leslie Johnson’s corruption case was a betrayal to him and to the people of Prince George’s County – in much the same way that a neighbor’s unkempt lawn infuriated him. Surely the people living there weren’t serious about uplifting the county, he figured – and surely the Johnsons weren’t serious about helping the people they were supposed to serve.
The last conversation I had with Walter was just a few weeks ago, right after the Johnsons had been sentenced. Too lenient, we agreed – but Walter took some satisfaction in seeing them get their just deserts. I’m glad he at least lived long enough to know that they’d be paying for their crimes.
Characteristically, in that last conversation, Walter didn’t say anything about being sick.
Rest in peace, my friend. I will miss you terribly.
Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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