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Washington Post pays tribute to Elon alumnus James Denton '73

The Elon graduate who died June 18 was a key voice in advancing democracies worldwide and was publisher and editor of World Affairs Journal.

James S. Denton (family photo)

James S. Denton '73, who died June 18, was the subject of an extended obituary in the Washington Post and a tribute from columnist Anne Applebaum

Denton was the son of a U.S. Navy officer and grew up at naval bases in the United States and Europe. When he entered Elon, his father, Jeremiah Denton, was in his fourth year of captivity as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. James Denton served as Student Government Association president at Elon and arranged to have his father give a dramatic Founders Day address at Elon following his release as the first American POW to return from Hanoi during Operation Homecoming in 1973. The story was carried by the Associated Press and revealed the extent of the suffering U.S. soldiers faced in the prisoner-of-war camps. Jeremiah Denton went on to become a U.S. Senator from Alabama.

Following his graduation from Elon, James Denton spent five years in the Navy as a communications and anti-submarine warfare officer. As detailed in the Washington Post obituary, James Denton was a speechwriter for U.S. Sen. Robert Dole, a consultant to Polish president Lech Walesa, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, where he helped develop the "America at a Crossroads" documentaries about the challenges facing the nation following the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Denton was executive director of Freedom House and president of the National Forum Foundation, an organization founded by his father to promote conservative ideals, and he later served as executive director of Freedom House. He worked around the world, with a special interest in the post-Communist countries of Europe, advising political and media leaders, and later directed publication of dozens of journals related to international affairs and public policy. As director of the World Affairs Institute in Washington, he edited a journal previously led by one of his mentors, United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick. In 2014 Denton launched the Transatlantic Renewal Project to promote ties between the United States and Europe. 

Columnist Anne Applebaum said Denton was a behind-the-scenes Washington figure who "organized the exchanges of people and ideas that helped establish democratic institutions in central Europe and became the basis for America's commitment to the region."

Applebaum said Denton brought people together informally to talk about important issues. "Jim wasn't just a thinker but someone who built coalitions around good ideas," Applebaum wrote. "He believed in bipartisanship, in alliances, and in democratic debate. He thought that, using these things, it was possible to make the world better. And he did."


Dan Anderson,
6/27/2018 7:55 AM