For the past three years readers of the Rappahannock Record have enjoyed the opportunity to expand their literary horizons by perusing the column, “KALEidoscope on BOOKS”, written by Wilford Kale.
Wilford and I have been friends for almost a quarter of a century, during which time I have at times gasped over the breadth and depth of his knowledge and manifold talents in a wide spectrum of different arenas.
To begin, Wilford is a Tarheel by birth, a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, who came to the Old Dominion to matriculate at The College of William and Mary. Once here, he became a Virginian at heart. The old saying that no zeal is as great as that of a convert applies to Wilford. He is the Commonwealth’s true cheerleader boosting the cause of all things Virginian. His enthusiasm is boundless, and infectious to everyone he meets.
For many years he practiced journalism, reporting for the Richmond Times-Dispatch on people and events in the Tidewater area, and in the process establishing a standard worthy of emulation by future generations of reporters. Three decades ago, he stepped aside from his role as journalist and accepted a position as public affairs director of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission in Newport News. In that capacity I came to know him from my time serving as a member of the commission.
Wilford took his duties there quite seriously, as he does every task he undertakes. Each month he prepared for the commission members a compendium of all published articles and speeches that had appeared mentioning Virginia’s marine news. By reading through his pages, members could attend the meetings fully versed in the myriad scope of important issues with which they needed to be familiar to make proper decisions.
Writing history has been a passion of Wilford’s throughout his life, leading him to produce a dozen scholarly treatises of wide historical interests. His epic work, Hark Upon The Gale, is the place to begin for anyone interested in the history of his Alma Mater, which he followed up with From Student to Warrior, A Military History of The College of Willam and Mary, that was an outgrowth of his master’s thesis from the University of Leicester in England.
To be a good writer one first must be a good reader. That adage tells the whole Wilford Kale story. Wilford’s entry into the regular book review scene has afforded readers the introductions to dozens of works important for their general knowledge of Virginia’s past, present and future, as well as works of interest on other topics by Virginia authors. Few will be able to read the compendium of all the books that Wilford reviews, however knowing about them can whet the literary appetites of those who always want to know more.
One review from a few months ago was especially significant for me. For years, driving along U.S. Route 17 in Gloucester County I would see a road and a school named for T. C. Walker, without ever knowing who the person was, until Wilford reviewed a biography on Thomas Calhoun Walker, who was born a slave as the Civil War began, and who rose to become an educator and an attorney. The book, Lawyer Walker, is now on my reading list.
Personally, Wilford is a genial gentleman, schooled in the old manners that in many cases themselves have passed into history. He is the quintessential Virginia gentleman, albeit his Tarheel birth notwithstanding. With his full white beard and jolly sense of humor, he easily could be mistaken for Santa Claus come Christmas time.
Today is Wilford’s birthday, and although I shall not divulge his age, this year should be a good one for him with two lucky digits in it.
Happy Birthday, Wilford! Thanks for all of your epistolary treats over the years.