Walls died Dec. 7 at a Birmingham hospital after a lengthy battle with several illnesses, his son, C. Lee Walls Jr., said Wednesday. He was 79.
A memorial service is planned at 2 p.m. Saturday at Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church.
Walls grew up in the newspaper business when his father, Carmage Walls, ran several newspapers, including Gadsden and Macon, Ga. After graduating from the University of Alabama in 1956 and serving for two years in the Air Force, he got into the newspaper business, becoming publisher of the Cleveland Daily Banner in Tennessee.
He started Walls Newspapers Consultants in Cleveland and began buying newspapers in small- and medium-sized markets. The headquarters moved to Houston and then to Birmingham in 1986. It included newspapers in nine states.
He retired at 75 and his son is now president and CEO of the business. In addition to the Cleveland newspaper, the company includes daily newspapers in Jasper; Cartersville, Ga.; Cookeville, Tenn., and Bolivar, Miss.
Lee Walls Jr. recalled growing up in Cleveland and his father taking him many times to see the newspaper being printed. “He loved watching a press run,” his son said. “He would have a smile on his face and talk about feeling the press in your feet.”
The son said he could remember subscribers calling his father at home to say they missed the day’s paper. He would drive to the Banner office, pick up a copy and hand deliver it to make sure the readers stayed happy. When someone was out on the newspaper staff, Walls would jump in to set type, help with the press or visit a local retailer to pick up ad material.
“He loved the business. He was an ‘ink in the blood’ newspaper man,” his son said.
Felicia Mason, executive director of the Alabama Press Association, said Walls was a quiet leader who made sure his papers not only delivered the news, but supported the communities they served.
“Lee Walls was an icon in the newspaper industry in Alabama and other states for many years,” she said.
James B. Boone Jr., CEO of Boone Newspapers Inc. in Tuscaloosa, became friends with Walls when they were students at Alabama and remained close as they built their businesses. “Lee was involved with and spent his whole life with community newspapers, and his newspapers were and are very good ones. His stewardship for the communities he served was excellent,” Boone said.
He said Walls had many interests outside newspapers, including being a talented musician, becoming a licensed pilot as a teenager, performing tricks on water skis as a young man, and being an accomplished photographer.
Besides his son, survivors include: his wife, Yvonne Walls; his daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Malinak of Asheville, N.C.; his stepson, Mark Miller of Houston; his brother, Byrd Cooper Walls of Vancouver, B.C.; his sister, Lissa Walls Vahldiek of Houston; his stepmother, Martha Ann Walls, of Houston; and his sister-in-law, Nell Dunn Walls of Lanett.