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In Memoriam: James Denton, Publisher & Editor of World Affairs

James S. Denton, president of World Affairs Institute and publisher and editor of this website, died on June 18 after fighting prostate cancer gamely for 12 years. He was my best friend, and I shall miss him dearly, as will not only his loving family but also a great many other friends. One of them, Peter Collier, once commented to me aptly that Jim had a brilliant talent for friendship. All who worked with him and the institutions and programs that he shepherded will miss his leadership as well as his collegiality.

I met Jim in 1984. He had read an article of mine in the New Republic charging that a hearing that Senator Kennedy had held to expose misdeeds by the so-called “contras” in Nicaragua was based on fraudulent evidence. Jim phoned me and introduced himself and we arranged to meet. 


Joshua Muravchik with Jim Denton, 2011

He had come to DC only that year to assume directorship of the National Forum Foundation. His background was in the military and the private sector, not in political issues. But he quickly made his way in policy circles thanks to his congenial nature, his ingenuousness, and his deep interest in substantive questions. I believe that he got to know many of those he came to work with by the same simple method through which he and I met. He would read something that grabbed his attention, then reach for the phone and call the author or the subject of the article, and a relationship would begin, and sometimes a close friendship.

In my case, he did more. He also reached out to the member of Senator Kennedy’s staff responsible for that hearing who was embarrassed by the controversy. The two of them agreed to travel together to the remote outback of Nicaragua to try to get to the bottom of the story—although it remained elusive. 

The readiness to venture out to dicey places was characteristic of Jim. He was intrepid and brimmed with intellectual curiosity. As Communist regimes began to totter in Eastern Europe in 1988, he traveled to Poland and Czechoslovakia and got himself chased by police in the midst of an “illegal” demonstration.

This was the first of countless visits to that part of the world. Soon after the Communists fell, Jim devised a program to help emerging young leaders learn how to ply their crafts of politics or journalism in a democratic setting. He brought groups of them that he would select, himself, to the US for multi-month apprenticeships in American government or news organizations. Continuing group after group for many years, Jim’s program helped to train a whole swath of the leadership of post-Communist Central Europe.

In 1997, Jim merged the National Forum Foundation with Freedom House, which then became the sponsor of his program in Central Europe. Freedom House, the most venerable international human rights organization, had hit on hard times, drowning in red ink. Jim took over as executive director, and guided the group back to solvency.

In the next decade, Jim became executive director of Heldref publications under the aegis of Jeane Kirkpatrick, to whom he was an especially solicitous and devoted friend in the last decade of her life when she was bereft of her husband, Evron. He strengthened immensely the finances of the charitable foundation that owned Heldref, doing this in part by finding a buyer for the folio of academic journals it published. 

But he kept one for which he had a vision. That was World Affairs. It was America’s oldest journal of international relations, but circulation had fallen off and at times it failed even to publish on schedule. Taking on the role of publisher, Jim brought in a new editor and updated and upgraded the magazine dramatically. When that editor left, Jim assumed the editorship. He also inaugurated the website on which you are reading this.

His was a life of great achievement and many good deeds. Both would undoubtedly have been even more had the cancer not stolen him from us. In pain, which he invariably belittled, and having been told by his doctors that no further treatments were available, he worked until that Friday, spent Saturday relaxing with loved ones and playing with his grandchildren, then took to his bed and succumbed Monday morning, leaving a hole in my life and the lives of many others that will not likely be filled.


James Steele Denton, 1951-2018

Obituary, The Washington Post

Mourning the passing of Jim Denton, by Anne Applebaum. The Washington Post.

 

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