Herbert Stokes Walesby, former art director of the News American who volunteered aboard the SS John W. Brown, where he sketched his shipmates, died of lung cancer Nov. 14 at Christiana Care in Wilmington, Del. The former Sykesville resident was 85.
"He was enthusiastic, positive and very talented," said James Toedtman, who had edited the News American in the 1980s. "He was always a bright light in our newsroom."
"Well, the thing about Stokes that was so good was that you never saw him do anything but smile. He was never negative," said William F. Stump, former News American editorial page editor. "He was so good-humored that everyone liked him and Stokes didn't have an enemy in the world," said Mr. Stump. "He was a good guy and a highly competent newspaper artist who was very imaginative."
The son of a career Army Air Corps officer and a homemaker, Herbert Stokes Walesby — who was known by his middle name — was born in Louisville, Ky. Because of his father's military assignments, his family moved around the country.
After moving to Virginia, Mr. Walesby graduated from Fairfax High School and studied art at the Corcoran Art School in Washington and also at American University. He was 16 when he began working in the art department of the old Times-Herald in Washington.
His wife of 12 years, Sylvia Kniel, attributed her husband's interest in the water and ships to a time when he lived with his family near the Great Lakes, which was later reflected in his watercolors of boats and lighthouses.
He worked for a year as an artist for the News American before joining the merchant marine in 1946, where he sailed until 1950 aboard the SS Bowling Green Victory and the U.S. Army Transport Sea Cat.
In 1950, he enlisted in the Army and served for two years at Fort Meade. After being discharged, he returned to the News American, where he rose to become the newspaper's art director.
Lance Theroux, who is now an editorial artist at The Record in Bergen, N.J., worked for Mr. Walesby at the News American from the late 1970s until he left in 1980.
"He was a very kind man with a great sense of humor and seemed to be in a good mood most of the time. We were a tight-knit group and we often went out to dinner together and to places where we listened to Irish music," recalled Mr. Theroux.
"He wasn't doing a lot of art when I worked for him because he was doing lots of managerial work," said Mr. Theroux. "But he was an old-school newspaper artist back in the days when he was doing lots of pen-and-ink sports cartoons. Today, such artists are a dying breed."
Georgia Marudas, a former Baltimore Sun business editor, had worked with him at the News American.
"He did have a wonderful touch with caricatures, and that's what stands out in my mind," said Ms. Marudas, who recalled a drawing of two popular and colorful editors that was not for publication, but for the amusement of the staff.
"He had such a deft hand and caught their personalities precisely, even down to the way one walked, and that is what you have to do when you do a caricature," she said.
In addition to his newspaper work, Mr. Walesby, who was known as "Herb" or "Stokes," produced recruiting artwork for the Navy in a pictorial art series of naval history and special features for National Geographic magazine.
He also produced covers for Yachting Magazine and a nationally syndicated pictorial biography of rock groups for United Features Syndicate.
Mr. Walesby also designed the Reserve Chardonnay wine label for White Hall Vineyards in Charlottesville, Va., and often displayed his artwork at the vineyard's annual art show.
After the News American closed in 1986, Mr. Walesby, who had lived in Sykesville, continued to produce freelance artwork. In the mid-1990s, he began volunteering as a deckhand aboard Project Liberty Ship's John W. Brown, which since 1988 has been undergoing restoration in Baltimore.
"Herb loved being on the Brown," said Ms. Kniel. "He loved Wednesdays, his day on the ship. He was always happy when he came home to talk about his day."
Mr. Walesby's role on the ship was operating its steam winch.
"It's not the easiest thing to do and he hadn't operated a steam winch since his sailing days in the late 1940s," said Ernest F. Imhoff, a former Baltimore Sun editor who wrote "Good Shipmates: The Restoration of the Liberty Ship John W. Brown."
Mr. Imhoff said that the many seamen he worked with aboard the Brown were "unaware he had been art director of the News American and was an accomplished artist."
"This past spring Herb told me that when he came home Wednesday nights, he would sketch shipmates working in scenes he had seen that day on the Brown from memory," said Mr. Imhoff. "I was delighted and asked him to bring the sketches to the ship."
It was Mr. Imhoff who suggested that the sketches be considered for Project Liberty Ship, which owns the John W. Brown, for its 2013 fundraising calendar.
"Herb was anxious to see the calendars this fall. The sketches he had showed me included a wide variety — using the steam winch, pulling down a ventilator, lowering the top mast and other normal deck duties," said Mr. Imhoff.
Mr. Walesby had ordered 25 for family and friends.
"Sadly, it was too late for the artist. The calendars were mailed Nov. 14, the same day he died," said Mr. Imhoff. "The family in mourning now has mementos of his final years aboard a ship."
Mr. Walesby and his wife enjoyed gardening, canoeing and sailing.
"We had a wonderful time sailing the Chesapeake Bay area," said his wife.
Plans for services, which will be held at National Presbyterian Church in Washington, are incomplete.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Walesby is survived by his daughter, Dr. Honor Ame Walesby of Timonium; a sister, Mary MacIntire of Rockville; a stepdaughter, Kali Kniel of Wilmington; and many nieces and nephews. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun