Walter Hempton, who had a long career in newspaper operations and who started the first free and independent Russian newspaper, died Oct. 3 in Denver, Colo. He was 87.
Born on July 4, 1924, to Robert and Jessie (Coppin) Hempton in Wawa, Penn., Hempton grew up in the small town of Chadds Ford, Penn. Hempton excelled in his studies, often finding himself at the top of his class at Chadds Ford Country School, which housed first to 12th grade. Hempton took Latin, excelled in math, played basketball, and wrote and stared in many school plays. In the summer, Hempton, his brother Desmond and their parents spent their vacations on the boardwalk at Atlantic City, going to the beach, carnival and vaudeville shows. Starting as a young boy, Hempton was a lifelong sports enthusiast; he especially loved the New York Yankees and as a child made a scrapbook with all his favorite players that was still one of his prized possessions.
After the Pearl Harbor attacks, Hempton left school and enlisted in the Marine Corp. In 1943, after basic training at Paris Island, he met and married Frances Ward. Soon after, he was sent to the South Pacific, where he achieved the rank of Platoon Sergeant. He loved serving his country and was very proud of his Marine Corp. experience in World War II.
He and Frances had four children: Elizabeth Romero, currently of Wilmington, N.C., who is married and has two sons, John and Rob; Robert, also of Wilmington, N.C., has two children, Bob and Jennifer; and Peggy Shackett of Myrtle Beach, S.C., who has three children, Shianne, Shannon and Paul. Their second son, John, died in a car accident when he was 17. Frances passed away in 1990.
After the war, Hempton accepted a job as an apprentice printer with the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal (now The News Journal), where he stayed for 25 years serving as printer, journeyman printer, union stewart and operations manager.
In 1975, he caught the eye of the president of the Detroit Free Press and Lee Guittar, an officer with media company Knight Ridder (bought by the McClatchy Co. in 2006). He was offered the position of operations manager and the opportunity to build a new waterfront plant in Detroit. Hempton took the job and remained in Detroit for seven years. While in Michigan, he met and married Marilyn Day and adopted her two children, Rob and Vanessa Hempton-Fink, and Charley, their golden retriever. During this time, Hempton took up running six miles a day with the family dog and competed in many 10K races as well as the Boulder-Boulder in Colorado.
Rob now lives in Hanford, Calif. with his wife Sharon and their three children. Vanessa lives in Denver, Colo. with her husband Kyle and two children. Charley lived to be 20 years old.
In 1981, Lee Guittar left Detroit and went to Denver’s Times Mirror Co. Hempton was invited to join him to reorganize the newly-purchased Denver Post. He was made vice-president of operations and had more than 250 people reporting to him. After management changes at the Post, Hempton was made president of Denver Post Charities, a yearly charity event sponsoring the Senior Golf Tour. Since golf was one of his passions, he enjoyed his new position. He loved rubbing shoulders with all the golf greats especially Arnold Palmer.
After two years, Hempton retired from Denver Post Charities and became a consultant for newspapers around the country, primarily for the Hearst Corp. After several years as a consultant, his former boss and mentor Lee Guittar contacted him and asked if he could represent Hearst Newspapers in Moscow. Communism has just ended in Russia and it was thought at the time the country was going to try and become a democracy. Hearst wanted a presence there, so the company sent Hempton to start a Russian newspaper.
He and Marilyn moved to Washington D.C. so it would be easier for him to commute between Russia and home. The joint partner in Moscow was Izvestia, the leading government paper. Russian and American reporters were hired, satellite transmission was established, and Hempton completely updated Izvestia’s newspaper operations department to a state of the art operation.
The result was the publication, WE/mbl. Similar to the style of USA Today, the paper gained a large circulation in Russia, Virginia and Washington D.C. Advertisers such as Revlon, Pizza Hut, Estee Lauder and McDonalds purchased ads in the paper. After three years, the Russian paper was making money, but when Izvestia ceased funding, Hearst decided to pull out of the operation. After selling most of the equipment that had been purchased for Izvestia, Hempton and Marilyn decided to retire in Palm Harbor, Fla.
The couple returned to Denver in 2000, where he became active in the Masons (he was a 50 year member), Hope United Methodist Church, and Silver Sneakers at the Trails Health Club. He played golf once a week with friends, always ending the round with a pint and a story about the good old days.
Known as an old fashioned gentleman, Hempton was also a true sport. He was generous to a fault and was never afraid to try something new. He took up skiing at age 58 so he wouldn’t miss any fun with his new friends at the Denver Post. He played tennis, loved to dance, and even tried to learn how to sail and snorkel. As a social person, Hempton seemed to like everyone he met. He considered his involvement in the Marine Corp. his greatest accomplishment.
A Masonic memorial service will be held at Hope United Methodist Church at 1 p.m. Oct. 21 followed by a light lunch. A Marine Corp. Honor Guard ceremony at Fort Logan Cemetery is scheduled at 11 a.m. Oct. 20.