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Carmage Walls

Southern Newspapers, Inc.

Hall of Fame Class of 2012

Carmage Walls, who died in 1998 at his home in Houston, was associated with Texas newspapers from the 1940s until his death. He touched the lives of thousands who lived in communities served by his newspapers and who benefited form his charitable interests. He nurtured the careers of some of Texas’ most outstanding newspaper leaders of the past 60 years.

Walls, the self-educated son of a Georgia sharecropper, became a nationally known newspaper entrepreneur and operator beginning in the 1930s. As a newspaper investor and manager, he was instrumental in charting new and exciting territory for newspapers, especially community newspapers.

Walls had high professional standards. He believed newspapers owed their readers and advertisers the very best newspaper each community could afford. He trained publishers to understand that each had a responsibility to give back in service to the communities they served. As a result, publishers working for Walls-owned newspapers have for generations been active in the Texas Press Association and Texas Daily Newspaper Association, and they have helped lead the lobbying and other public interest work for the two associations.

Walls and his newspapers were pioneers in newspaper technology. They demonstrated from the 1950s on that offset printing could save money and produce quality newspapers, and they made early forays into computerized newspaper production. Walls also invented and streamlined many of the newspaper buying and financing techniques that made it possible for people of ordinary means to build their own companies. In these and other ways, Walls helped to ensure the long-term economic health of community newspapers everywhere.

From the time he began managing and buying newspapers in the 1930s and 1940s, he was involved in the purchase and operation of many scores of newspapers, mainly in the Southeast and in Texas. Texas newspapers touched by Walls’ ownership and management include Galveston, Beaumont, Baytown, Brazoria County and many others. At his death, Walls left his newspaper ownership in Texas in two companies: Southern Newspapers, Inc., and Galveston Newspapers, Inc.

Under the management of Walls’ widow, Martha Ann Walls, and his daughter, Lissa Walls Vahldiek, those companies in 2012 owned and operated 15 newspaper operations, 11 of them in Texas: The Bay City Tribune, The Brazosport Facts, Del Rio News-Herald, The Galveston County Daily News, Kerrville Daily Times, Lufkin Daily News, Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel, New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung, Paris News and the Seguin Gazette Enterprise.

However, Carmage Walls’ greatest legacy in Texas and elsewhere has been in the men and women he trained as newspaper operators and journalists. A number of them are still leaders in the Texas newspaper industry. Those include his immediate family – his widow and his daughter – as well as an extended family of operators and owners, including three generations of the Hartman family, James Nabors of Lake Jackson-Clute and many others including Dolph Tillotson, Bill Hartman, Jim Hale, Jim Chionsini, James B. Boone Jr., Leon Brown, Greg Shrader, Bill Cornwell, Mike Graxiola, and others.

Often, protégés of Walls took what they learned from him and created their own companies, many of which have done business in Texas, including Hartman Newspapers Inc., Boone Newspapers Inc., Worrell Newspapers Inc., Smith Newspapers Inc., Granite Publications Inc., and many others. Walls also was associated with Jefferson Pilot Insurance’s purchase of newspapers in Texas, and he helped manage those newspapers for a number of years.

Walls was born in rural Crisp County near Cordele, Ga., in October 1908. He was one of 11 brothers and sisters. The family moved in 1912 to Orlando, Fla., where Walls began his newspaper career in 1923 inserting Sunday comics at The Orlando Sentinel.

Walls had little formal education. He dropped out of high school and worked his way through most of the newspaper’s departments while taking correspondence courses in typing and bookkeeping.

In 1931, he became head bookkeeper, at age 24, and he was named business manager of The Sentinel three years later. In 1931, Walls began his association with Charles E. Marsh, a millionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist who at that time lived in Austin, Texas. Marsh and E.S. Fentress formed a partnership in 1924 that owned the Austin American-Statesman and later bought a number of other newspapers. Still later, Marsh and Eugene Pulliam formed another partnership, General Newspapers Inc., which bought the Orlando paper.

Walls came to Marsh’s attention when the older man noticed that Orlando’s collections on accounts receivable surpassed that of all of his other newspapers. He wanted to know why, and the answer was Carmage Walls’ hard work and attention to detail. Walls’ friendship and business association with Marsh lasted until Marsh’s death in 1964.

In 1940, Marsh bought a one-third interest in The Macon (Ga.) Telegraph-News with brothers Martin and Peyton Anderson, and he asked Walls to become general manager of the new acquisition. Five years later, Marsh asked Walls to become president of what then remained of General Newspapers Inc. “I was told to build it up to greater action,” Walls later recalled. Marsh summed up his plans for Walls this way: “I want to make a wholesaler out of you instead of a retailer.”

So began Carmage Walls’ career was a buyer, seller and manager of newspapers. In 1947, Walls moved the headquarters of GNI to Gadsden, Ala., where the new company had just purchased The Gadsden Times.

In 1950, Walls bought his first Texas paper, the Baytown Sun, for General Newspapers Inc. Fred Hartman, legendary editor and Texas newspaper leader, became publisher, forming a lifelong relationship with Walls and his family. In 1951, Walls formed his own company, Southern Newspapers Inc., and in 1952, the Baytown paper became part of SNI. Throughout the next four decades, the company continued to buy, sell and operate newspapers in Texas, as it does today.

In 1954, Walls married Martha Ann Williams of Gadsden, and that partnership lasted until his death. Molly and Carmage Walls supported one another in everything they did, often flying across the country in a small plane piloted by Carmage, counting cars in a grocery store parking lot in some community where they believed the newspaper might one day be for sale.

In 1967, Walls sold his interest in The Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser and in the same year bought The Galveston County Daily News from the Hobby family of Houston. In 1973, Walls moved his family to the NASA-Clear Lake area, and the family has lived in Houston since that time.

By 1984, Carmage Walls had accumulated enough personal wealth to be named to the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans.

He, however, never sought not wanted such attention. He preferred instead to focus on the communities served by his newspapers and especially on the lives of the young men and women who came his attention through his newspaper work.

Walls not only encouraged his newspapers to support important charities in the communities they served, he and his family created a number of charitable trusts and foundations to offer support and money to causes he saw as important. Many of these supported Walls’ special interests – medical research and education, especially the education of young journalists.

He was inducted into the Texas Newspaper Hall of Fame in ceremonies at the Hyatt Regency DFW Airport Hotel in 2012 as one of four members of the Hall’s sixth class of honorees.