W. Keith Saunders, writer, traveler

May 22, 1994|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

W. Keith Saunders, a retired journalist, author and travel editor who flew 200,000 miles and visited about 45 countries, died Wednesday of pneumonia at his home in Chevy Chase. The former Evening Sun reporter was 84.

He was born and reared in Elizabeth City, N.C., where his father, W. O. Saunders, published the Independent, a crusading newspaper that earned a national reputation for its crusades against racism, political corruption and religious zealotry. In 1962, he chronicled his father's life and newspaper career in a published biography, "The Independent Man." While visiting New York City with his father in 1924, at age 14, Mr. Saunders talked his way into being a page at the record-breaking, 103-ballot Democratic National Convention being conducted in the old Madison Square Garden.

"He loved to tell [about] working at the Democratic Convention and getting autographs and talking to Gov. Alfred E. Smith of New York, FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt, and eating hot dogs with Will Rogers," said Spencer K. Stephens, a grandson who lives in Silver Spring. "He still had the page of autographs after all these years, and he loved showing them."

After leaving the University of North Carolina, he joined his father's newspaper in 1929 as a reporter. He was hit with shotgun pellets in the legs one night returning home from work. "Presumably someone displeased with something I had written in my father's paper," he wrote later.

When the Independent ceased publication in 1937, he joined the the Raleigh, N.C., Times and then the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot before coming to The Evening Sun in 1944 to be a general-assignment reporter.

In 1946, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he reported on the travel and aviation industries for American Aviation Publications and the Reuben H. Donnelly Corp. where he edited National Aeronautics, Aviation Daily and Air Travel before becoming a free-lance writer and author.

He also wrote two other books, "So You Want to Be an Airline Stewardess" and "Guide Book to the Outer Banks," and contributed to national magazines.

Mr. Saunders always enjoyed male chorus, singing and performing with the Raleigh Male Chorus and, while working for The Evening Sun, being invited to sing with the B&O Glee Club. He sang with the National Press Club chorus until it was disbanded.

He was also a member of the Roanoke Island Historical Society, the First Flight Society, Sigma Delta Chi and the Chevy Chase Lions Club.

Services were to be held at 1 p.m. today at his church of many years, Chevy Chase United Methodist Church, 7001 Connecticut Ave.

Survivors include his wife of 53 years, the former Mary E. Newlin; a daughter, Judith Saunders Stephens of Annapolis; and a second grandson.

The family suggested memorial donations to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27599-2200.

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