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EDITORIAL: WORDSMITH

HE DELIGHTED in sending us scrambling for our dictionaries. He stubbornly insisted on the continuing use of the serial comma, contrary to AP Style. He demanded that letters arguing against editorials be prominently displayed on that page. He taught us what “peccata et errata” (transgressions and errors) means. He was Paul Akers, and now the entire newspaper is mourning his loss.

Mr. Akers, 63, became editorial page editor of The Free Lance–Star more than 15 years ago, bringing with him his great skills as a writer, his keen insight, his conservative bent, and his heart for people. He was a small “c” conservative, one who appreciated traditional values yet believed corporations needed to be balanced by unions, government should provide amenities to improve community life, and people who needed help should get it.

When the Thurman Brisben Center lost its lease, Mr. Akers railed against citizen groups in the city who, one after the other, refused to allow the homeless shelter to relocate to their area. He advocated strongly for the Fredericksburg parking garage, visiting cities of similar size and noting their success in building attractive, yet functional, facilities of that nature.

He was an early proponent of a downtown hotel, a campaign that eventually saw fruition in the Courtyard by Marriott. His most recent—and most intense—effort centered on bringing a minor league baseball team to Fredericksburg. He believed a team could unite our region and provide inexpensive family entertainment, and that its stadium could be a venue for other events. Sadly, he did not live to see that first pitch thrown out, but his editorials, a major Viewpoints section, and his behind-the-scenes work surely contributed to that movement.

Mr. Akers set high standards for those who wrote for the editorial pages, beginning with himself. He labored over his writing, searching for just the right word to express his thoughts and working to add the kinds of ruffles and flourishes that delighted readers. He hated any errors that slipped through, especially his own. He rejected ideologically bound thinking. The originator of the Sunday Viewpoints section, his goal was to showcase a broad range of opinions, start community discussions on important topics, and stir up thinking among our readers. He encouraged all to disagree without being disagreeable.

A history buff, Mr. Akers loved “anniversary” editorials and Civil War pieces. His “Know Your Rights” series on the Bill of Rights in 2005 was worthy of use in a classroom. Religion, often banned by editorial page editors, was an allowable subject, because Mr. Akers saw spirituality as a big part of life. A Marine and Vietnam veteran, his memories of that conflict both haunted and inspired him. Though a deep thinker and an able polemicist, his vibrant sense of humor filled the office with infectious laughter.

A tall figure (6 foot 5 inches), Mr. Akers could often be seen walking down William Street in his suit and his summer fedora toward Hyperion, sometimes stopping in briefly at the Virginia Partners Bank where his beloved wife, Karen, worked. A caring boss, loving family man, and compassionate community member, in the end it was his heart that gave out. His legacy never will.

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