Walter Anderson: A Semper Fi Life


Walter Anderson

The Marine Corps convinced me that I could do anything.
– Walter Anderson
 
Semper Fidelis is Latin for “always faithful.”  It is the Marine Corps motto.  Walter Anderson is a Marine:
 
If I had to say just one word that defined me, that word would be Marine.  I was so young when I went in, it formed the basis of my personality.  I learned trust, ethics, honesty, honor, loyalty.
 
“I’m getting out of here,” was Walter Anderson’s first big decision.  He dropped out of high school to join the Marines at age seventeen to escape the poverty and abuse at home in Mt. Vernon, NY.  In his memoir Meant to Be:  The True Story of a Son Who Discovers He Is His Mother’s Deepest Secret, he recalled:
 
I lived in fear in an angry home. . .I became defiant. . .I knew I would be beaten. . .My father had found me reading. . .
 
The beatings were escalating.  Worse, I was becoming almost as angry as my father ~ and, indulging my emerging temper, I was quick to fight. . .over the smallest slight. . .I could not be sure, ever, what awaited me behind that apartment door.
  
. . .sometimes I feel safer on a street corner than in my own bed.
 
He was sent to Vietnam and got his GED while in the Marines. 
 
The man we just buried. . .Was he my father?
Walter Anderson

Who Am I?  “You Were Meant to Be”

Mr. Anderson always sensed that he didn’t quite belong in his family.  On the day that William H. Anderson, Sr. was buried in 1969, Walter Anderson learned that he was the World War II love child of Albert Dorfman, a Russian-Jewish co-worker of his mother.  His mother, Ethel Crolly Anderson, told him, “you were meant to be.”

She did not know that Mr. Dorfman had passed away a year earlier.  She told her son that he had a half-brother, Herbert Dorfman.  Ironically, the brothers shared a career in journalism.  Mr. Dorfman was producer of NBC News in New York City.

Mr. Anderson was blessed with an enlightened witness and champion, Ilza Williams, the mother of his best friend Barry and an inordinately resourceful school teacher.  Books were his salvation:

I was drawn to books by curiosity and driven by need ~ an irresistible need to pretend that I was elsewhere. 

It was my avenue of escape and growth.  I could go to a library and open a book.  I could be anybody. . .be anywhere. . .do anything. . .imagine myself out of a slum.  I read everything.

Reading was my ticket from poverty and abuse.
– Walter Anderson
 
Champion for Children and Literacy
 

Mr. Anderson and fellow child abuse survivor Joe Torre were featured in Breaking the Silence: Children’s Stories, a PBS documentary funded by the Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation.  Mr. Anderson described child abuse:

It is never an event.  It is a pattern of behavior.  [Abuse] is the systematic diminishment of the child

 
Mr. Anderson is best known for his work for literacy.  He has written five books.  He hopes that people reading his memoir will learn:
 
Every child deserves someone who is crazy about him or her.  . .
 
Mrs. Williams made all the difference. . .she gave me a privileged childhood. . .I am who I am not because of the abuse I suffered as a child but despite the abuse.  Abuse is always wrong.  What saved me was the love of others.  I was loved as a child even in the midst of the worse abuse.  Mrs. Williams loved me as a son.  My mother loved me.  I was always confident of my mother’s love and in the love of Mrs. Williams. 
 

 

We are handed our heredity with no apologies, and
our environment is often beyond our control.
We have the power, though, to face life, to make choices, and, most important, to hope. . .
True hope dwells on the possible, even when life seems to be
a plot written by someone who wants to see how much adversity we can overcome.
Walter Anderson, The Confidence Course
 
“I Believe in You”
 
In 1994, he received the Horatio Alger Award.  He credited Mrs. Williams and his mother for his success, and he reflected on the lives of his fellow recipients:

All of them seemed to have something similar in that they had difficult childhoods, often horrific childhoods, but they had monumental success later in their lives. . .these people had in common:  Somebody in their childhood had said, “I believe in you.”  And they never forgot it.

31 Years at Parade:  From Assistant to Chairman and CEO

During his interview with Jess Gorkin at Parade, he had a defining moment:

I was learning to channel my anger ~ and my fears ~ to productive ends.

. . .for years I had been running from something, and now I was running toward a goal. . .to help expose and relieve social problems such as child abuse, racism and illiteracy. . .each new opportunity gave me a greater chance to influence the issues I cared about most.

Mr. Anderson started his career at Parade as Mr. Gorkin’s assistant in 1977.  He became managing editor in 1978.  In 2000, he was named chairman and CEO.  At Parade, he was able to publish a potpourri of stories to motivate people to use their power to change the world.  He told Quest that his Uncle George advised him:

“Walter, you’ve got to make a stink in this life.”  Over the years, I’ve understood that to mean you have to make a difference. . .

I want to use whatever influence I have in this life to help people understand that they aren’t helpless, that they are participants.

We are always capable of doing more than we think we can.
– Walter Anderson

Mr. Anderson retired from Parade in 2009.  During his 31-year tenure, he increased the magazine’s circulation from 21.6 million in 129 Sunday newspapers to 33 million in 470 papers.  He joked in an Advertising Age interview that his new “employer” is his grandson Jonathan.  He is an avid fisherman.  Since his retirement, he co-founded Novium Learning.

He married Loretta Gritz, and the couple have two children and one grandchild.  They live in White Plains, NY.  Click here to watch a video interview of Mr. Anderson.

 He survived.  He’s thriving and has found joy. 

 October is Domestic Violence Awareness month.  Please join me in wearing your purple and celebrating survivors.

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