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Former ‘Valley News’ Publisher Walter Paine Dies

  • "Valley News" Publisher Walter Paine works in the newspaper's office office on Route 10 in West Lebanon, N.H., circa. late 1950s. Paine and James Ewing bought the newspaper in 1956, four years after its founding. (Valley News photograph) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Walter Paine, chairman of the board of trustees at the Montshire Museum of Science, and Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin break ground at the museum's new site in Norwich, Vt., on Aug. 6, 1988. (Valley News - Stephanie Wolff) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Walter Paine looks at specimens at his Enfield, N.H., home on September 22, 1989. The former "Valley News" publisher was also a part of the beginnings of the Montshire Museum of Science. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Walter Paine, Beverly Damren and Georgia Tuttle cut the ribbon for the grand opening of The Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon, N.H., on July 18, 2010. (Valley News - Patrick T. Fallon) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/5/2018 4:06:32 PM
Modified: 10/6/2018 12:02:30 AM

Enfield Center — Walter Cabot Paine, the patrician publisher who transformed the Valley News and alternately nurtured and prodded the development of other Upper Valley institutions during his six-plus decades in the region, died on Thursday at his home on Mascoma Lake after a period of declining health. He was 95.

“In the end, his heart was too big for his body,” Barbara Moyer, Paine’s wife of 23 years, told the Valley News on Friday. “He had a wonderful life, with a great many facets.”

And unless you asked the World War II Navy veteran about his Boston-Brahmin upbringing, his Harvard education, his business and philanthropic passions and his life adventures — including a flirtation with fast cars, both on and off race tracks — Paine rarely tooted his own horn.

“If you want to look at the pillars of the Upper Valley, who made it what it is, he’s right up there with people like Norris Cotton,” former Valley News sports editor Donald Mahler, whose 40-plus years in the newsroom overlapped with Paine’s last seven in the publisher’s office, said on Friday. “He has a lot of footprints in the Upper Valley, and he never really asked for any accolades or thanks.”

Rather, Paine cultivated a network of colleagues and friends and powerbrokers with whom he crossed paths while publishing the Valley News between 1956 and 1980; while founding and then leading the Montshire board of trustees for decades; and while masterminding the fundraising effort for West Lebanon’s Kilton Public Library during the depths of the Great Recession.

“When I was assistant director of the (Lebanon) libraries, I recall him calling to volunteer to help us make the project happen after the Kilton family made the initial gift,” Sean Fleming, the current director, recalled on Thursday. “He was a force. He was so often meeting with (then-director) Lou Ungarelli, and had so many connections to the Upper Valley. If it was going to happen, Walter Paine was going to find a way.”

So David Goudy learned during his 34 years as executive director of the Montshire.

“Had it not been for Walter Paine, the Montshire Museum would not exist,” the now-retired Goudy, who lives in Thetford, said earlier this fall. “There’s just no question in my mind. His commitment, year after year, pulled it through its infancy. He’s an example others could aspire to, as far as giving back to the community.”

It was a community that attracted Paine, the eldest of five children of Richard Cushing Paine and Ellen Peabody Eliot Paine, in no small part because of its great outdoors. In addition to skiing for recreation, he owned Ascutney Mountain Resort in Brownsville for a decade.

And into his early 90s, he stalked, captured and classified lots of bugs — many of which he’d netted in the fields and wetlands that still outnumbered the shopping plazas surrounding the modern plant to which he’d moved the Valley News in 1974.

“I’ve been collecting beetles for 70 years,” Paine said during a conversation at Kilton in January 2014, in the periodicals room named for him. “At lunchtime at the paper, I’d run out and catch as many as I could. I can just imagine some of the people who were already suspicious of me seeing that and saying, ‘Not only is he a pinko, but he’s (daft). That’s the publisher.’ ”

For several years after Paine and his Keene Sentinel partner James Ewing bought the Valley News from founder Allan Butler for less than $100,000 in 1956, Paine wondered how long he would be publishing.

“It was in a building that was designed to be an auto sales room if the paper failed,” Paine recalled. “The ‘if’ was very heavily loaded.”

Knowing that the states of New Hampshire and Vermont were planning to use federal highway funds to run two interstate highways through the region over the coming decade and a half, Paine and Ewing endured several years of red ink, in the midst of a battle for regional dominance with the Eagle Times of Claremont. In 1962, the Valley News began turning a regular profit, and by 1968, after interstates 89 and 91 crossed, plazas began sprouting around Exit 20 in West Lebanon, and the businesses occupying them boosted advertising revenue.

“None of us would be here at the Valley News without Walter Paine,” current Publisher Dan McClory said on Friday. “There would be no Valley News, period.”

Once the paper found solid financial footing, the news and sports staffs began establishing a reputation for covering life in the Upper Valley’s both within the Lebanon-Hartford-Hanover triangle and well beyond.

“The only common denominator I could find, other than calling it the Upper Valley, and other regional references, was sports, especially at the area high schools,” Paine said. “Every time we failed to cover a game, I’d get calls: ‘Little Johnny did this great thing and why weren’t you there?’ We came to realize, ‘If there’s that much interest, this is the thing we should be pushing.’ ”

After surviving World War II and before buying the Sentinel, Paine had written editorials for the Baltimore Sun. And except for writing editorials and bringing candidates such as Ted Kennedy in during presidential primary season, spent little time dictating to the newsroom what and how to push its coverage.

“He was hands-off,” said Meriden resident Steve Taylor, a Valley News editor between 1965 and 1972 who went on to become New Hampshire’s commissioner of agriculture. “It was a real writer’s newspaper. We tolerated some eccentric people but talented people.”

Among them was Mahler, a Bronx-born, bushy-haired and bearded graduate of Canaan College who worked as a custodian at Hanover High School before joining the sports staff in 1973 and taking the department’s helm in 1976.

“He took care of the vision of the Valley News, not so much the day-to-day,” Mahler said. “He taught me how to see the world as a journalist would, but other than that, he had his world and we had ours.”

Paine’s world beyond the Upper Valley included sailing, particularly along the coast of Maine, where his recreational passion dovetailed with his interest in the natural world.

“He had a shipbuilder in Maine custom-build him his own research boat, with the professional-grade dredges and all the electronics,” Goudy said. “He’d take it down to the Caribbean, with young researchers, and dredge for mollusks.”

In the course of his research, Paine, who had served as a gunner in the Pacific during the war, accumulated thousands of seashells, a collection that his wife said he recently donated to the Conchologists of America. The beetle collection, meanwhile, is going to the Montshire.

“He really embodied the 19th-century naturalist, gentleman naturalist as knowledgeable as the professionals. He could sit in professional meetings and totally understand what was going on and contribute, yet in a way that experts in their fields sometimes can’t. He really had this global thinking about ecology, about the importance of education, getting students involved.”

The education mission was part and parcel of Paine’s devotion to the Montshire, which began life in 1976 in a former bowling alley on Lyme Road in Hanover, as a repository for neglected natural-history specimens from Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum.

“We packed it with these animals — birds soaked in preservatives, things that would be illegal today,” Paine recalled in 2014.

Over the ensuing decade and a half, the Montshire staff began taking exhibits around to area schools. Meanwhile, Paine, the board and Goudy built support for the showcase museum that, since its completion in 1989 on a bluff overlooking the Connecticut River in Norwich, has become a mecca for families as well as for researchers.

“Next to the Valley News, the museum is one of the most satisfying things that ever happened to me,” Paine said in 2014. “It’s one of the few places that’s come through this recession with flying colors. Now it’s providing a core of support to manage growth and save the environment.

“Everything I’ve tried to do, with the paper, the museum and the library have been all of a piece,” he added. “What we wanted to do with the paper, many people said we were trying to do the impossible, to bring 30-plus towns spread over two states together.

“Yet there was a unity to this valley.”

In addition to his institutional and cultural legacies, Paine designated the donation of his remains to the Geisel School of Medicine, Barbara Moyer said. In addition to his wife, Paine leaves five children from previous marriages: two daughters, Woodstock resident and Pentangle Arts Executive Director Alita Paine Wilson, and Piera Paine, of Lebanon, Tenn.; and three sons, Michael Paine, of Seattle, Christopher Paine, of Charlottesville, Va., and Benjamin Paine, of Mill Valley, Calif.

Memorial services will be held in the spring, his wife said, adding that donations in Paine’s memory may be made to the Montshire Museum of Science, Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon and the Lake Sunapee Region VNA & Hospice, which cared for him during his final weeks.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

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