WALTER ZACHARIUS, Founder of Kensington Publishing Corp., died Wednesday, March 2, 2011. He was 87 years old. Known for his innovation, creativity, warmth and humanity, Walter Zacharius will be best remembered for his genius, unprecedented innovation within the publishing industry, and his devotion to helping people around the globe.
From an early age, Walter Zacharius wanted to be a publisher. He first found his niche in the magazine world, where he enjoyed a long and highly successful career, but books were his passion. In 1974 he founded Kensington Publishing, which today is the only independently owned, full-line publishing house in the United States, presenting commercial and literary fiction and nonfiction titles in all formats to the trade. After founding Kensington, Walter, along with his business partner Roberta Grossman, launched Zebra Books and later Pinnacle Books; both companies continue as imprints under Kensington Publishing. Walter brought to the industry a unique perspective, and his visionary approach to books was unlike any other. Using his artistic sensibilities, he was the first to introduce “special-effect” foil-stamped, holographic, 3D and moving image book covers into the marketplace. Among his other firsts, Walter started a highly-successful African American publishing imprint (Arabesque Books), created the first Spanish-language romance line, and in 2007 opened a West Coast operation, the headquarters of Kensington Media, LLC., a film production company.
Walter’s foresight extended to his ability to uncover new talent, and he was responsible for discovering and publishing, many bestselling and legendary books and authors, including Mario Puzo, Ken Follett, Richard Condon, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Jerzy Kosinski, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Reagan, Fern Michaels, Lisa Jackson, Carl Weber, and Tucker Max.
Evocative of time and place, the novel begins in Poland in 1939, ends in Israel in 1975, and tells the powerful story of a woman on a journey that leads to the discovery of a love that defies time, war and retribution. Barbara Taylor Bradford said that it was “A genuine page-turner… I was haunted long after I’d finished the book.”
“A lot of the things I’ve learned or done in life,” Zacharius said in 2004, “I started late. I took up horseback riding in my 40s, finished my college degree at 54, played my first game of squash after I was 65, and began piano lessons at 70. Now, I’m learning to play golf. Most importantly, though, is that I’ve fulfilled a dream of my youth―becoming a writer.”
Walter’s unquenchable zeal for life, and desire for lifelong learning was legendary. Ever on a quest for the next adventure, Walter traveled the world, went on African safari, was an avid tennis player, a sky diver, a jazz musician, loved the opera, and throughout his life collected art from around the world.
A generous and noted philanthropist, Walter Zacharius chaired the Publishing Division of the United Jewish Appeal for over four years. He was the head of United Cerebral Palsy of Queens, and helped build a campus there for victims who could no longer live at home. In 1992, after his publishing partner, Roberta Grossman passed away; Walter established a scholarship in her name at New York University for students interested in publishing, which continues today. He also founded three college scholarships for minority children based in Harlem. Walter was very active in the Harlem RBI, an organization dedicated to inner-city youth, and helped build a baseball field in Harlem for local children. He was also a major fund raiser for Brandeis University.
In 1994, he was invited to the Vatican by His Holiness Pope John Paul II to attend a special concert in Commemoration of the Shoah, the Jewish Holocaust. Walter served as a benefactor and organizer of this historic concert.
He is survived by his son, Steven Zacharius, President and CEO of Kensington Publishing Corp; his daughter, Judith Zacharius, an occupational therapist in Fairbanks, Alaska; his grandchildren Adam Zacharius, General Manager Kensington’s west coast operations; the film division of Kensington Publishing Corp.; and Cori Zacharius Cohen and a great granddaughter, Ava Cohen. His first wife, Alice died in 2004, and his present wife, Suzanne Zacharius and her daughter, Mariel, survives him.