Remembering Walter Dellinger
By Ginger Young | March 17, 2022
On February 16, Book Harvest lost a cherished friend and champion. Walter Dellinger, a brilliant lawyer, public servant, activist, and mentor to legions, was also a dear friend of mine. With his wife Anne, Walter was instrumental in the founding of Book Harvest. A celebration of Walter’s extraordinary life will be held this Saturday, March 19. I am so touched that Walter’s family has suggested donations to Book Harvest in lieu of flowers. Below is a remembrance I wrote shortly after Walter’s death.
Walter Estes Dellinger III
If there was one thing all of us who loved Walter knew – from neighbors to Supreme Court Justices, law students to Presidents – it was that his devotion to his beloved wife Anne was soaring, unstoppable, and breathtaking. To glimpse it was a rare privilege, an insight into a depth of love as spectacular as a supernova, and as unwavering as the sun.
I grew to adore Walter and Anne over our shared love of books, decades ago. In 2011, when I launched Book Harvest, they were by my side, cheering me on as my wild idea took root: to heal ages-old literacy inequities in our country by ensuring that every child grows up with a bounty of books at her bedside.
Walter and Anne and my husband Jonathan and I spent hours and hours together, regaling one another about our latest favorite reads and, of course, politics. When dementia began to dim Anne’s vibrancy, Walter read books to her every evening, and he gave me the gift of a lifetime: time to sit with Anne on their sofa and pore over the pages of my favorite picture books – The Snowy Day, Flat Stanley, Curious George, The Day You Begin, and so many others. The cadence of spoken words, the beacon of colorful illustrations, the physicality of books: they reached Anne.
The day that Anne left us in April 2021, Walter called me to read this excerpt from her diary, one of the last things she ever wrote: “Reading may be close to my first and last ‘friend.’ It has brought me so much love and knowledge, opening perhaps by now thousands of new worlds.” Oh, I cried.
A month later, I visited Walter on his 80th birthday, bearing picture books to add to his prodigious home library of children’s literature and my home-baked treat that he loved best – dark chocolate mousse. He urged me to share the latest plans I had for Book Harvest. He was channeling Anne’s spirit in that moment, and, of course, nourishing his own indefatigable curiosity.
Walter on May 15th, 2021 – his 80th birthday – with my husband Jonathan and me.
I shared with Walter that we had just surpassed providing 1.5 million books to children in 10 years – and he immediately wanted to know what was on the horizon for our second decade.
Before that moment, I had not revealed to anyone what I was thinking. Shakily and tentatively, I told him that I had begun to formulate the work of Book Harvest’s second decade as “With Literacy and Justice for All.” Walter’s eyes glistened, and he gave me a hug.
With that framing of access to words, stories, and books as a basic civil right, I was proudly in the orbit of Walter’s life’s work. I will stay in that orbit, inspired by his brilliance, his kindness, and his restless and relentless pursuit of a more just world for all. And I will continue to miss him fiercely.