A passion for just about everythingDec 03, 2018 10:54AM ● By J. Chambless
Sam Waltz with his personal library, full of books that have captured his interest over the years.
By John Chambless
Sam Waltz doesn't have time to retire. He's having too much fun.
“Oh, I wouldn't trade this life for anything,” Waltz said brightly during a wide-ranging interview at his Greenville home. “Why would I retire? What's not to love about what I do?”
What Waltz does, exactly, covers a lot of ground.
His story begins with his childhood, as the son of a sharecropper father and school teacher mother in Illinois. He grew up in the land of Abraham Lincoln, which would come around later in life to be a major interest of his.
As a young teen, he had a strong interest – but not much natural ability – in baseball. His coach assigned him to call in the scores for the games to the local newspapers in Champaign, Ill. Gradually, he built relationships with the newspaper editors and writers and began covering baseball and basketball games. He got the lordly sum of $1 per game, but when he got that amount from four different papers, Waltz was maximizing his efforts – something he continues to do.
Although he finished two degrees there after his military service, he had dropped out of the University of Illinois in 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, to enlist. “When your country goes to war, you need to be ready to go to war,” he said.
He spent three years in Army counterintelligence, basically “spying on the bad guys” and learning how groups operate. Based in Philadelphia, he did background checks on Army personnel, worked in military facility security, and gathered information – much as he had as a working journalist.
Five years later, he had a long list of contacts in the military and governmental realms, and was hired by the News-Journal in Delaware as a political journalist and state capitol bureau chief.
He has been a Delawarean since April 1975. He covered a young Pete du Pont, Tom Carper and Joe Biden. He remains close with Biden, who lives less than a mile away from Waltz's home.
“Then the DuPont Company recruited me in 1977 to do marketing, public relations, government relations and strategy,” Waltz said. After a company plant blew up and Waltz handled the resulting chaos, he started down a path of crisis management, something he continues today. In 1993, he founded Sam Waltz & Associates Strategic Capital & Business Counsel in Greenville, eventually growing to a staff of 10 before downsizing to a solo operation by 2010.
“I help leaders and organizations navigate difficult events, trends, times, people and issues to achieve their goals,” he said. Which means that when a company has an embezzlement crisis or some sort of management disaster, Waltz can lead panicked executives through the next steps. He does workshops on leadership and business planning, as well as mergers and acquisitions and public affairs.
But that's not even half of what he does.
During his years with Dupont, he had a hand in producing the halftime show at the 1980 Super Bowl XIV, which promoted a then-new product, Mylar. He was a project manager for the Gossamer Albatross in 1979, a pedal-powered aircraft that crossed the English Channel with the DuPont logo on its side, landing global exposure. He was the national director for putting DuPont Stren fishing line into fishing tournaments and TV shows nationwide.
A lifetime voracious reader, Waltz has pursued several avenues on topics that caught his interest.
He spearheaded a campaign to vindicate two commanders who were publicly scapegoated after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Between 1998 and 2002, he worked to clear the names of Admiral Husband Kimmel and General Walter Short. The families of both men had carried the burden for decades.
In the 1990s, Waltz had met Ned Kimmel, the son of Admiral Kimmel, who lived in Wilmington and also worked at DuPont. Although a Presidential pardon was not achieved, by 2000, both the Senate and the House of Representatives had voted to vindicate the two commanders.
For his part, “How often do you get a chance to touch history?” Waltz said. “I feel blessed to have worked with the son of Admiral Kimmel to vindicate both the Admiral and the General. … The government had perpetuated a stain on their reputations, their honor and their character.”
In 1999, the Senate called for a reinstatement of the men's ranks. “I look at that day, May 25, 1999, as one of the most touching moments in my life,” Waltz said. “I watched with Ned on C-Span as the Senate voted to vindicate his father.”
Then there's Waltz's interest in Moe Berg, a Jewish baseball player who played 10 years before the better-known Hank Greenberg. And his passion for bourbon, “America's spirit,” he calls it, and its rich history. And serving as the Delaware Valley chapter chairman of TruthAtWork.org, a ministry that unites and serves business people whose Christian faith is an organizing principle in their lives. And his 10 years of attending baseball spring training in Florida. In 2018, he saw 20 games in 21 days in seven different ballparks.
“I get up every day and I just want to learn something new,” Waltz said.
He thinks Joe Biden will run for President in 2020, and he recalled their long association in a recent blog post, addressing Biden: “You always have thought on a large scale. I remember a breakfast we had in 1978, as you were running for a second term in the Senate. It was just the two of us in a booth at the old Howard Johnson’s in Fairfax. 'Have you ever thought about working in the White House, Sam?' you asked me. I hadn’t, but it was clear that you had, and were thinking of it then, even at the tender age of 35. You demonstrated to a generation -- in Delaware and beyond -- the power of working to achieve your dreams.”
Waltz says he's a Democrat, although the party has gone uncomfortably far left of his own personal standing as “a social progressive who is conservative about the role of the government,” he said.
He reveres Abraham Lincoln, who he admits “was the most reviled President in United States history. He was an egregious violator of civil liberties during his term, but people tend to forget that. I regard myself as a pragmatist, who hopes we get better government.”
Even Waltz's family is high-achieving and far-flung. His wife Sandi, a pharmaceutical regulatory affairs executive, is finishing her doctorate in business and was named this year as a laureate of her university alma mater. His oldest son, Sam III, teaches in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. His daughter Rachel works in community mental health for the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and she's a former PTSD counselor for the VA. His son Andrew works in San Diego, where he is involved in marketing and community affairs for a regional destination arts and entertainment center. Waltz has two grandsons.
In the midst of all of Waltz's achievements, there's an autobiography – tentatively titled Running to Trouble – that remains unfinished because Waltz is too busy adding to his range of activities. He's now reading up on Messianic Jews, meaning Jews who have converted to Christianity, and the recent history of Israel.
“My reading tends to be diverse,” he said, pulling out books from a wall of bookshelves that are organized by topic.
In addition to all the books he's reading, the speeches he gives at local civic and business groups (he has spoken in 35 states and three countries), his business management consulting work, the column he writes for the Delaware Business Times (a business he founded in 2014), there's the five newspapers he reads on Sundays, and the three or four he reads each day during the week.
With the ability to speak at length on just about any topic he has studied, Waltz is an affable, enthusiastic personality who fits in well with a range of people – from Rotary Club members to the high-ranking CIA official he has welcomed to his home office for career counseling.
“When people ask me when I'm going to retire, I tell them, 'When you read my obituary, you can assume I've retired,” Waltz said, laughing. “And that's the truth.”
For more information, visit www.SamWaltz.com.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email [email protected].