Edwards Park, a founding editor, longtime columnist and revered figure at Smithsonian magazine, died February 12, 2005, at Washington Hospital Center of complications from a fall, at the age of 87.
In 1969, Mr. Park, who was known to his colleagues as Ted, was among the first four staff members hired by the magazine's original editor, Ed Thompson. They were charged by S. Dillon Ripley, then secretary of the Smithsonian, with creating a general-interest magazine that would
reflect the broad scope of the various Smithsonian museums, from technology, history and culture to curiosities that defied category.
Edwards Park was a fixture at Smithsonian magazine from its founding, editing stories and writing essays about ideas and artifacts.
'At an early meeting with Mr. Ripley,' Mr. Park wrote in 1980 of the magazine's tenuous beginnings, 'Thompson used a phrase that came closest to defining the magazine: 'It's about things in which the Smithsonian is interested, might be interested or ought to be interested.' '
An inquisitive man of boundless charm and cheer, Mr. Park reflected the magazine's eclectic mandate in his own writing and in the articles he commissioned as history editor. For 16 years, he wrote a monthly essay, 'Around the Mall and beyond,' in which he mused with dry, detached wit on the Smithsonian, the past and, sometimes, his own life. He also wrote columns on the Revolutionary War and about items from the Smithsonian's collections in a series called 'The Object at Hand.'
'He was on top of everything at Smithsonian,' said Sally Maran, the magazine's managing editor, who knew Mr. Park for 35 years. 'He was highly respected and much loved.'
'In many ways, he was the magazine,' said Timothy Foote, who succeeded Mr. Park as history editor. 'What he wrote always seemed disarmingly simple yet defied structural analysis. And it always worked like a charm.'
An authority on aviation, sailing, history and Australia, where he lived for several years, Mr. Park contributed articles to Smithsonian well into his eighties.
In addition to his work for the magazine, he wrote five books, including 'Treasures of the Smithsonian' (1983) and a well-regarded memoir of his experiences as a fighter pilot in World War II, 'Nanette:Her Pilot's Love Story' (1977, reissued in 1989).
Born September 21, 1917, Mr. Park grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, and in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where his family had a summer home. As a student at Yale University, he was on a rowing team that won the 150-pound-and-under class at England's Henley Regatta.
After graduation, he taught at a private school before joining the Army in 1941. He had been a pacifist in college, he once wrote, but as war drew near, 'the dread of a uniform had long passed.'
He transferred from the Corps of Engineers to the Army Air Forces and was shipped to Australia and, later, New Guinea as the pilot of a temperamental P-39 fighter, which he called 'Nanette' and described in his memoir.
Having married an Australian woman, Mr. Park remained in the country after the war, writing for a Melbourne newspaper owned by the father of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.
Living in Australia, Mr. Park wrote in a 1988 Smithsonian essay, 'produced a strange lightness of spirit, which I diagnosed tentatively as the sloughing off of New England reticence.'
He joined a gold rush in 1950 ('we got nothing really -- just a little color that my wife wears in a ring') and edited a newsletter for American servicemen in Australia before returning to the United States in 1951.
After four years as a feature writer at the Boston Globe, Mr. Park came to Washington in 1955 to join the book division of National Geographic. In 1969, Thompson, the former editor of Life magazine, tapped him for Smithsonian.
The magazine now has a circulation of 2 million, but its early years were hardly secure. In the first decade, Mr. Park wrote, he and his colleagues changed offices 19 times. Editors had to mollify suspicious museum officials who looked askance at what some saw as a plebeian invasion of their scholarly realm.
In the end, Mr. Park got to know the curators and the museums' storerooms as well as anyone, gently imparting his knowledge in his writing. His 'Around the Mall' column brought him wide popularity – one fan club adopted the slogan 'Save Edwards Park!' as if he were a natural resource -- and he spoke about the Smithsonian across the country.
'He had a marvelous ability to connect with the readers,' said Alexis Doster, a former Smithsonian editor who carpooled with Mr. Park for 15 years. 'He was as charming a man as ever lived, but in a wholly authentic way.'
In 1967, Mr. Park moved from Kensington to Annapolis, where he enjoyed sailing his 34-foot sloop, the Walkabout. He also flew light planes and played golf. He moved four years ago to West River.
Survivors include his wife of 61 years, Jean Speirs Park [died January 8, 2006] of West River; three children, Alexander J.E. Park, Nicholas E. Park, and Felicity A. Park; six grandchildren; and two great-granddaughters.
Mr. Park retired from his editorial position in 1982 but continued to write for Smithsonian for nearly 20 years. He completed his autobiography two months before his death.