Beaufort loses prolific poet, community fixture Walter Dennis

January 26, 2010 

Beaufort lost one of its characters when Walter Dennis was found dead Monday in his home at 905 1/2 Wilmington St.

The 73-year-old fixture around town was a "cook, poet, photographer, self-publisher, sports columnist ... a very diversified person," he wrote in the introduction to one of the more than 20 books of poetry and recipes he published.

He was an Army veteran of the Korean War and a merchant marine. His advocacy for veterans often centered on the Beaufort National Cemetery, where he was responsible for getting a historical marker erected on Boundary Street, where he participated in ceremonies on military holidays, where he regularly visited the directors and where he will be laid to rest.

"He was a real patriot," said cemetery director Bernie Bowse.

Dennis was brought up in the Bronx but followed his mother to Beaufort when she returned to land long owned by the family in the Northwest Quadrant, first occupied by freed slaves.

In the Lowcountry, Dennis worked in many restaurants. He washed dishes, cooked and "took notice to people around him," he wrote.

"To tell the truth, I never paid too much attention to cookbooks."

But he produced a number of them, such as "Food and Thought," "Stone Soup Cookbook," "Seafood and Not so Fancy Food" and "Uncle Junnie's Family Reunion Cookbook and Stuff."

Cooking, writing and fishing -- and talking -- were his passions. He longed to be a literary figure, friends said, but in reality he wrestled with illnesses and financial instability.

He sold a lot of books, said book dealer Wilson McIntosh. And he was regularly published in The Beaufort Gazette under the title "The Dixie Drifter."

He also called himself "the poetry man" and "the coffee-drinking night owl." He'd crank up an electric typewriter that would shake the house and write all night, his son said.

"In the morning, he'd say, 'See what I wrote,' " said Kevin Dennis of Los Angeles.

Early most mornings, Dennis was seen pulling a large yellow wagon loaded with fishing rods down to the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. He fished in the Beaufort River and gave away his catch. He talked to tourists, who went to the store to buy his books.

He spent hours talking to James Pruitt at Pruitt's Grocery. He made the rounds all day, sharing ideas, plans and history. He tried to share a vision like the one his son said he instilled in him: "You can go as far as your eye can see; there are no such things as walls; you can look beyond barriers."

In recent years, Dennis lost most of his weight. Volunteers took him to the Veterans Administration hospital in Charleston. Church volunteers saw him at the Washington Street park where they serve meals on Friday nights as part of Operation Good Neighbor.

An American flag and Army banners festoon Dennis' neat front porch, where old upside down military helmets hang as planters. All over the yard are signs of his wit and passions: a cooker surrounded by neat stacks of wood, a hammock, planters filled with fishing rods and a wooden cage with a sign on it that says, "Colored Waiting Room." Stickers from fishing and wildlife organizations are plastered all over the front door. They surround one of his poems:

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