Walter F. Naedele, 80, of Philadelphia, a journalist who wrote well and often for the Bulletin and later the Inquirer, died Wednesday, Feb. 15, of complications from a blood cancer at Keystone Hospice in Wyndmoor.
The normally robust Mr. Naedele told friends he never intended to retire -- the work was his joy, the pay his reward. But advancing age and the unexpected advent of cancer interceded while he was still highly productive.
Mr. Naedele spent 58 years writing and reporting in and around Philadelphia, with several side trips overseas. As a Bulletin general assignment reporter, he covered Philadelphia's Bicentennial celebration in 1976.
"I wrote stories critical of people running the event," he told Sally A. Downey, a friend and former Inquirer reporter. "Two resigned."
After John Lennon was shot to death on the street outside his New York apartment building in December 1980, the Bulletin dispatched Mr. Naedele to Liverpool, England, to interview the Beatle's former high school teacher.
The teacher met him in a bar and tried to hit him up for 100 pounds in exchange for the interview, Mr. Naedele told Downey. "I can't afford that," the reporter recalled telling the teacher.
But when two Brazilian reporters in the bar paid the money, Mr. Naedele was not above cashing in on their gain. He sat in the back of the room, listening to every word, taking notes, and then filed his story.
In January 1982, when the Bulletin folded, Mr. Naedele was hired by the Inquirer. At various times, he covered crime, agriculture, and city politics.
During the Iran-Iraq War in 1984, Mr. Naedele embedded as a reporter with American troops near the Persian Gulf. "The experience convinced me I was a stay-at-home guy," he told Downey.
From 1987 until 2009, Mr. Naedele roamed the Philadelphia suburbs in a company car, writing feature stories.
As an obituary writer since 2009, he painted vivid portraits of his subjects, such as one he wrote Oct. 7, 2016, about Burlington City Fire Chief Pasquale Ferrelli, 90:
"When James Ferrelli was a youngster visiting the Burlington City home of his uncle Pasquale Ferrelli, there would usually be the background sound of a radio broadcasting police and fire emergency calls," Mr. Naedele wrote. "And when a call came, James said, Mr. Ferrelli 'would be out the door, in the middle of a conversation.'"
Porus Cooper, Mr. Naedele's editor for the last four years, said he was meticulous about checking every fact, title and name spelling.
"Always motivating him was concern for the bereaved families, whose grief he felt would be compounded if he got things wrong," Cooper said. "He agonized similarly about hurting the feelings of family members he interviewed, when he had to bring up sensitive aspects of the deceased person's life, such as divorces or other setbacks. Aerospace engineer and school crossing guard, Drexel professor and banquet manager, librarian and mill worker, they all got the same respectful treatment from Walter."
Born and reared in Bridgeport, Conn., he was the son of Walter and Marie Naedele. His parents never progressed beyond the eighth grade. When he was 10 and his sister Sheila was 3, their father left for Indiana, forcing his mother to become the family's sole breadwinner.
Mr. Naedele never bore him any ill will for leaving. The father later moved back to Connecticut, divorced Mr. Naedele's mother, and remarried.
"He was 'a good soul,'" Mr. Naedele said. "He and his second wife would have my mother and sister and me for Thanksgiving dinner every year."
Due to the generosity of a wealthy cousin, Mr. Naedele attended Fairfield College Preparatory School in Fairfield, Conn. His English teacher sophomore year was a Jesuit priest, the Rev. Edward Walsh, who suggested that Mr. Naedele become a writer. Mr. Naedele already had a typewriter given to him by his mother in eighth grade.
Mr. Naedele studied briefly at a Catholic seminary in Bloomfield, Conn. "The teaching was horrible," he later said. "We had the same Latin I had in my second year of high school."
After dropping out of the seminary, he worked in a post office for a year and then enrolled in Fairfield University. Paying for college "was an effort," he said, but part-time work as a caddie and construction laborer got him through to graduation.
In 1959, with diploma in hand, Mr. Naedele became a reporter for the Bridgeport Telegram.
In 1964 and 1965, he worked for the National Conference of Christians and Jews in New York. He wrote an account of a three-day convention the conference held in Philadelphia and submitted it to the Bulletin for publication. Almost on the spot, he was hired as a reporter by Bulletin editor Sam Boyle.
"Within a few months, I was writing music reviews, and I soon became an entertainment writer," he told Downey. He lost his beat a few years later when the entertainment editor retired, and Mr. Naedele had a dispute with a top editor when he applied for the job. "I was too inexperienced," he said.
Mr. Naedele served in the Connecticut Air National Guard from the late 1950s to 1965, and was deployed overseas during the Berlin Crisis of 1961. He was able to use the German he had learned in high school and college.
Mr. Naedele often traveled to Austria and Germany. For years, he spent several weeks in December touring and attending the theater in London. His favorite book was Brideshead Revisited, about English aristocracy during the 1930s and 1940s.
Although he occasionally purchased hand-tailored tweed suits in London, as the years passed his usual uniform became a plaid shirt, cardigan, corduroy pants, and a baseball cap.
He regularly hiked along the Wissahickon Creek near his home. During one snowstorm, he hitchhiked to work in Center City.
He lived as "a minimalist" -- no cellphone, no answering machine, no home computer, no microwave, no cable television, and no credit or debit cards. The money he saved by being frugal he used to pay the tuition of his great-niece Jennifer Hehn to attend Miss Porter's School, a private preparatory academy in Farmington, Conn. He carefully researched the school and followed Hehn's progress.
When sent into the field on news stories on weekends, Mr. Naedele used a company cellphone to file and live-blog. He had 103 Twitter followers. No matter how difficult the assignment, he never complained, saying: "Everything is wonderful."
Besides his great-niece, Mr. Naedele is survived by a nephew, James Hehn, a niece, Janelle Hehn, great-nieces Sierra and Alyssa, and great-nephews Ryan and Tyler.
A Memorial Mass will be held later at Our Mother of Consolation Church, 9 E. Chestnut Hill Ave., Philadelphia 19118. Mr. Naedele opted to donate his body to science through the Humanity Gifts Registry.