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The life and legacy of Dora Walters

Dora Walters

By Elaine Owen

Dora Walters was born Jan. 4, 1927 and passed Aug. 6, 2019 after a long and eventful life “exploring” and writing about her experiences. She grew up in South Deerfield, Massachusetts.

Her mother was a Swedish immigrant, her father a mechanic who ran the local service station.

Dora said when she was in first grade, she taught herself to type on her father’s typewriter. That was it—from that moment, Dora said she knew she wanted to be a journalist. Not a writer—a reporter.

“I’m one of the lucky ones,” she often said, “I always knew what I wanted to be.”

Walters remembers her first published piece. It was a letter to the editor printed on the “kiddy page” of her hometown newspaper. In her letter, she asked why the school district had decided the school bus should no longer come to her house, which meant she had to walk a mile and a half each way to school each day. Even as a fifth grader, her voice was heard. The bus returned to its usual route.

One of her colleagues said of her, “This spunky lady would walk right up to the commissioners in the midst of a conversation and ask them a question or take their picture right in the middle of an important debate, because that was the job. She was on deadline, and she didn’t care what anyone thought about her approach.”

Walters came to Georgia after living and working in Florida. She was the first female reporter for WTVT-TV in Tampa, FL where she covered murders and scandals.

She even interviewed Jimmy Carter once. She was an old-school reporter, armed with no fear and a notebook, ready to do her job and get a story, regardless. She retired from the Longboat Observer at Longboat Key, FL after 26 years.

During that time, she and her husband, Otto, bought property at Lake Blue Ridge. In 2011, she moved to Blue Ridge.

Walters started talking more about her late husband, Otto, in the last month, though she hadn’t really talked about him much since he passed 14 years ago. Otto and her dogs were always the men in Walters’ life.

Otto was a Swiss artist she met while living in New York City years ago, amid her job at the bowling alley and her hand in starting the famed Village Voice newspaper. They married after her time in Mexico, where she wrote for a nonprofit and traveled around the country to show donors exactly where their money was going. Before meeting her husband, Walters attended college at Boston University, interning for Newport News in Rhode Island, working as assistant women’s editor for the Springfield Union and reporting for the Schenectady Gazette and Burlington Free Press. In an era when women met their husbands, settled down then left work, Walters was a distinct exception.

When I first met her, she was adjusting her earring, and she said: “Before you say anything, I know they’re mismatched. That’s how I like to wear them.”

Given all she packed into her 92 years, it’s no wonder she earned the nickname Dora the Explorer. She was the original. As I look back at my years with Dora Walters, I marvel at her energy, her dedication and her ability to “seek out” interesting people and interesting stories. She was always exploring; new ideas, new people, new stories for print.

Today, as I look back at our 10 years working together, I think she’s still exploring, exploring a whole new life out there.