William P. Dukes

Age 71: Teacher and surveyor established a magazine devoted to life on the Delmarva peninsula.

May 20, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun Reporter

William Potter Dukes, a former educator who established a magazine in the late 1970s devoted to the culture and way of life of the Delmarva Peninsula, died Friday of pulmonary fibrosis at Perry Point Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The longtime Denton resident was 71.

Mr. Dukes was born in Baltimore and raised on Wickford Road in Roland Park. He attended Friends School and then transferred to Severn School in order to prepare himself for entrance to the Naval Academy.

At the academy, he studied electrical engineering and planned to become a Navy pilot. Shortly after being elected captain of the varsity lacrosse team in the spring of 1958, Mr. Dukes was seriously injured when he blew a tire while driving between Easton and Denton.

"He was in a coma for six weeks and had to learn to talk and walk again," said Margaret Dukes Pine, a sister, who lives in Roland Park.

Mr. Dukes, who recuperated at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, slowly regained his strength.

"One of his tricks to sharpen his mind was apparently to play endless games of chess with my grandfather," said his nephew, Jonathan W. Pine Jr. of Baltimore.

"He had also been a wrestler at school, and one of his frequent wrestling opponents and good friends was John McCain," he said.

Mr. Dukes, who had withdrawn from the Naval Academy, enrolled at Washington College in Chestertown, where he earned a bachelor's degree in economics in 1962. He later attended graduate school at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.

Even though the accident had left Mr. Dukes with residual difficulty speaking and walking, he taught at the Severn School and worked as an Eastern Shore surveyor and Adirondack Mountain guide before boarding a freighter for Australia.

Mr. Dukes took a job teaching at Clarence High School in Tasmania, and after leaving Australia, traveled to the West Indies and another teaching job.

"I guess I got the jobs through blarney, because I really couldn't talk very well," Mr. Dukes told the Wilmington, Del., News Journal in a 1987 interview. "In the West Indies, when they needed a geography teacher, I was asked if I had graduated in the subject. I said, 'No, but I have a wandering mind.' "

After returning to Maryland, Mr. Dukes settled in Denton, where he lived on a farm that he "shared with some termites," he told The County Record, a Caroline County newspaper, in a 1976 interview.

Without any editorial experience, Mr. Dukes decided to found Heartland, a quarterly magazine, in 1972.

"I didn't have a job, and the only person I knew who was dumb enough to hire me was me," Mr. Dukes said in the News Journal interview. "I decided to go into business for myself. I made a decision on the way to the bank to get a $400 loan."

Mr. Dukes combined his love for the Delmarva Peninsula and its way of life and people while at the same time providing regional writers, photographers and waterfowl artists a venue for their work.

In addition to being founder and publisher, Mr. Dukes also sold advertising for the magazine and laid out its pages.

"I learned about the magazine by doing it. That's also the way to learn to talk. If you don't talk, you don't sell ads and you don't eat," said the News Journal interview. "And he's an expert at cajoling photographers, artists and writers to contribute without pay."

And if Mr. Dukes preferred stories about genuine Delmarva characters, he was one, too.

"By turns the publisher is earnest, self-effacing and quixotic. His mixture of seriousness and silliness is symbolized by his splayed walk - which reminds you of Ray Bolger's Scarecrow careening down the yellow brick road of Oz," observed the N ews Journal.

Declining health and arthritis finally forced Mr. Dukes to close down the magazine in 1995.

"He was quite a character and lived life on his own terms," said his former wife, Kristen Walter, who had worked on Heartland.

Mr. Dukes had lived for years in a house in Denton that overlooked the Choptank River. "The last years of his life were so difficult, and he was so incredibly brave," Mrs. Dukes said.

Mr. Dukes was a communicant of Christ Episcopal Church in Denton.

Services are private.

Also surviving are a daughter, Anna P. Dukes of Savage; and a niece. An earlier marriage to Anne Christine Ross ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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