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CRUSADING EDITOR DEAD AT AGE 38


Publication: THE CHARLESTON GAZETTE
Published: Thursday, February 14, 1991
Page: P1A
Byline: n/a

DELBARTON (AP) _ Walter J. Warden, editor of the Williamson Daily News who crusaded against corruption and crime in the coalfields of West Virginia and Kentucky, died Wednesday. He was 38 years old.

Warden, who went by the nickname Wally, suffered from Hodgkin's Disease for several years and died at home, according to Publisher Louis P. Harvath III. ""It's not only Williamson and The Daily News' loss, it's the state's loss," Harvath said. ""He made an outstanding contribution to the journalism profession." Warden's newspaper won more than 125 awards for journalistic excellence from the West Virginia Press Association, The Associated Press, the Associated Press Managing Editors and other professional groups.

Warden was president of the West Virginia Associated Press Newspapers Association.

His newspaper was credited with supporting and often leading federal drug and political corruption probes in Mingo County and with encouraging citizens to run for public office in a county known for its political bossism.

""Today, there is no political boss in Mingo County," Warden said in a 1988 speech. ""Everyone used to talk about "They won't let you run for office,' and "They won't let you win.' Well, the federal PROSECUTORS GAVE US A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD AND WE BEAT "THEY."' Warden's strong professional relationship with law enforcement led to his newspaper last year publishing coupons for readers to report suspected drug dealers. The program was a success and was publicized across the country.

""Our goal was to get even one drug dealer off the street and, if we do, then it will be a success," Warden said.

Gov. Gaston Caperton said, ""Wally was a friend to me and to all the people of Southern West Virginia. He was a strong newspaperman, the kind of newspaperman who makes a difference in his community." Caperton skipped the second half of the Dec. 4 basketball game between West Virginia and Marshall universities in Huntington to watch the game on television with Warden in nearby St. Mary's Hospital.

""Wally Warden was the soul of West Virginia," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. ""In his heart, words like honesty, honor and decency came to life.

""His causes were West Virginia's causes. In Wally's eyes and in his words were reflected the hopes and dreams in our state.

West Virginia is a better place because he lived among us," Rockefeller said.

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va, said Warden's insight and sense of fair play will be sorely missed.

Warden joined the Williamson Daily News in 1969 while a student at Berea (Ky.) College, where he also was editor of the college's newspaper.

He took over the Daily News' bureau in Pikeville, Ky., when he graduated in 1973. He was appointed editor in 1976 at 24 years old, and was the state's youngest daily newspaper editor.

Warden's health worsened in November. Nevertheless, he continued to edit his newspaper between extended stays in the hospital and at home.

In a column published on Jan. 1989, Warden wrote: ""I have been doing exactly what I wanted to do with my life: work for the Daily News. And I never once said, "Why me?' ""I never said "Why me?' when the Daily News made me the youngest editor in the state in 1976. I never said "Why me?' when the editorial staff filled a wall with awards and honors. I never said "Why me' over the good times and now is not time to start "why-me-ing.' ""One thing I have had re-established firmly in my mind, however, is the fact that, in this life, the only thing more important than good health is good people who love and care for you.

Ultimately, however, it is not "this life' that is of real concern ""As someone who has spent time in intensive care and spent weeks in a cancer care unit with dozens of patients who will never go home again, I can tell you there is no sound on Earth more chillingly hollow than cries of "Oh, Lord, oh Lord,' from a person who clearly has no Lord to whom to cry.

""For Christians, a serious illness holds only two options: either there will be recovery and return to health or there will be heaven and no pain, no misery, no death ever again." Warden is survived by his parents, three brothers, a sister and his fiance.

Harvath said funeral arrangements were incomplete Wednesday.

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