He worked for the student newspaper at Middlebury College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1956. His first job at the AP covered the Vermont State House.
In 1962, Mr. Mears’ house caught fire, killing his two children, Pamela and Walter Jr., and his wife, Sally (Danton) Mears. Two subsequent marriages, to Joyce (Lund) Mears and Carroll Ann (Imle) Mears, ended in divorce. His fourth wife, Frances (Rioux) Mears, also a journalist at L’AP, died of cancer in 2019.
After retiring in 2001, Mr. Mears taught journalism at the University of North Carolina and lived in Chapel Hill.
In addition to his daughter Susan, from his marriage to Joyce Mears, Mr. Mears is survived by another daughter from that marriage, Stephanie Stich; one brother, William; and five grandchildren.
The afternoon before he died, Susan Mears said, his daughters kept him company, along with a Methodist minister who had known him for a long time. The pastor, describing Mr. Mears’ expertise in American politics, recalled a conversation many years earlier in which he had been amazed at how much Mr. Mears knew about the 1936 presidential election, which took place when he was 1 year old.
As Mr. Mears appeared to be sleeping, the pastor tried to remember the name of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Republican challenger.
Before either of the Mears girls had a chance to respond, they heard a familiar voice – softer and slower than they were used to, but with the quickness, authoritative tone and the factual mastery that had guided America’s leading political reporters for decades.
“Alf Landon,” said Mr. Mears.