Wurfel’s Career Spanned Broadcast, Print and Communications

Walt Wurfel, deputy press secretary in the Carter administration and a 25-year member of the National Press Foundation Board of Directors, died Nov. 29. He was 81.

Wurfel’s career spanned broadcast, print and politics, giving him an endless repertoire of colorful and entertaining stories. He started his career at radio stations in New York; segued to television in Puerto Rico; then on to the Washington Evening Star, the St. Petersburg Times and eventually vice president of corporate communications at Gannett.

He joined the Carter administration as a deputy to press secretary Jody Powell, in charge of working with local media. Wurfel put his radio background to work by creating audio news releases out of the Carter White House. “We were immediately attacked by the print media, the national print media, and by some freelance radio people here in Washington who alleged we were taking away their livelihood,” Wurfel recalled in an oral history for the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. The audio releases were a template that presaged the weekly presidential radio addresses revived by President Ronald Reagan.

Wurfel was also a senior vice president of communications for the National Association of Broadcasters from 1986 to 1997.

Wurfel joined the NPF Board in 1983, serving as the longtime treasurer of the journalism nonprofit until 2007. “I recall Walt’s meticulous financial reports, usually delivered with a sense of humor. His contributions to NPF are an enduring tribute to a life well lived,” said Sandy K. Johnson, president and COO of the Foundation.

“Walt was enormously helpful in thinking through the question of funding for a nonprofit like ours,” said NPF emeritus president Bob Meyers. “We went to New York at the invitation of the Knight Foundation to study journalism and financial interests in an age of change. He always went the extra mile with a smile and good cheer.”

More remembrances of Wurfel’s life and career are here and here. Condolences can be sent to his wife, Sara Fitzgerald, at sarafitz@aol.com.

A memorial service is planned for Dec. 22 at 1 p.m. at Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ in Arlington.