Walt DeVries, a native of West Michigan who was co-author of “The Ticket-Splitter” and other highly-regarded books on electoral politics and government, died last month at his home in North Carolina following a lengthy illness, shortly after his 90th birthday.
DeVries was an elected delegate from Grand Rapids to the famous 1961-62 Michigan Constitutional Convention that drew up the state’s current basic charter. At the convention, he worked with another delegate from Oakland County named George Romney, who was a vice-chairman of the conclave.
When Romney was elected governor in November, 1962, he tapped DeVries as his “executive assistant” in his new administration, which made DeVries “first among equals” in Romney’s executive office.
DeVries was one of the main actors in initiating Romney’s policy agenda and also a key adviser in Romney’s re-election in 1964, when Romney bucked the landslide win of Democratic President Lyndon Johnson. While Republicans running for every other statewide office in Michigan were being decimated, “Lonesome George” rode to victory by some half a million votes.
While DeVries began life as a Republican, he became a Democrat in North Carolina and later an Independent. Partisanship was less important to him than issues about which he felt strongly. Ultimately, it was the process of sound governance that he valued most highly.
Here’s the book on Walt DeVries:
Walter Dale de Vries, 90, of Wilmington, NC, died November 27, 2019 at his home. He was born in Holland, Michigan on November 13, 1929, and was the oldest son (of seven) of the late Martin and Catherine (VanderLeek) de Vries, immigrants from The Netherlands.
DeVries received a B.A. degree from Hope College in Holland, and an M.A. and PhD in Political Science and Social Psychology from Michigan State University.
DeVries served his country in the military and public sector in his early years: He enlisted in the 2nd Armored Division of the U.S. Army (1948-1949) and was recalled to active duty with Army Security Agency in Korea (1950-1951).
Later, while in graduate school, DeVries served as the administrative assistant to the Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives, George Van Peursem. DeVries was then elected as a delegate to the historic 1961-62 Michigan Constitutional Convention, where he served as chairman of the Committee on Administration. Subsequently he served for five years as the Executive Assistant to Michigan Governor George Romney and helped guide Romney through multiple campaigns. He concluded this period with an appointment as a Fellow of the Institute of Politics in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
DeVries went on to diversify his professional roles over the next decades:. He served in faculty roles in the Political Science domain at University of Michigan, Duke University and The University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
The De Vries family moved to North Carolina in 1972: They joined the congregation of The Little Chapel on the Boardwalk in Wrightsville Beach. Their waterfront home in Wrightsville Beach was a favorite gathering spot for family and friends. Walt was a lifelong avid sailor. An inveterate traveler with his wife Lois, they traveled to over 25 countries.
For almost thirty years, DeVries had his own firm that did campaign consulting, public relations, policy development, polling and media production. He collaborated closely with Susan Bulluck, a key business partner. Under DeVries & Associates, the team had numerous successes which stand today. From Alaska to Louisiana, DeVries produced winning strategies for his clients. Out of that work, he co-published three impactful books on emerging trends in political behavior: “The Ticket-Splitter” (co-authored with V. Lance Tarrance); “The Transformation of Southern Politics”; and “Checked and Balanced”. His texts are still being used as educational tools to this day.
Beginning in 1987 DeVries launched an innovative organization, The North Carolina Institute of Political Leadership, which continues today. This is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving the quality of political leadership in North Carolina through educational programs focused on aspiring elected officials. Over 1,000 Fellows have graduated from the institute and serve in a wide range of local and state roles. The Institute has helped start similar educational programs in three other states and two other countries.
Moreover, DeVries was a leader in his profession and state, first in Michigan and then in his adopted state of North Carolina. In 1969, DeVries co-founded a professional organization, the American Association of Political Consultants. He was also a charter member of the International Association of Political Consultants. He was honored in April of 2019 at the 50th anniversary AAPC conference in NAPA Valley as a founder of the organization and for years of contributions to the industry and the association.
His accomplishments are noted by his years of client campaign success. He continued to be active in Alaska, Michigan, and NC to the end. His Op-Ed pieces have been transmitted across the country by state and national news outlets. In 1998, he was awarded The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one of North Carolina’s highest honors, by the Tarheel State’s Democratic governor, James Hunt. DeVries’s public service included serving on local, state, and national organizational boards as well as public boards. With that service always came political and mentoring guidance. DeVries’s legacy of improving the non-partisan political landscape lives on at the NC Institute of Political Leadership.
DeVries was preceded in death by his beloved wife Lois Cook de Vries (to whom he was married for 68 years), his grandson Jeffrey de Vries and his brother John de Vries. Surviving are his four sons Michael Dale de Vries, Robert Cook de Vries and wife Nancy, Steven Richard de Vries and wife Janet, and Walter Dann de Vries, plus grandchildren Richard de Vries, Christine de Vries, Jason de Vries, DeVries is also survived by five brothers: Peter de Vries and wife Arlene, Edgar de Vries, Calvin de Vries, Martin de Vries, Jr and wife Carol, and David de Vries and wife Carol.
An oral history of Walt DeVries in his own words — a 90-minute interview — is available under the “George Romney” icon on the website of the Michigan Political History Society.org.