He worked for the Middlebury College student newspaper, graduating in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in English. His first job at The AP was reporting on the Vermont State House.
In 1962, Mr. Mears’ house caught fire, killing his two children, Pamela and Walter Jr., and his wife, Sally (Danton) Mears. Two subsequent marriages, to Joyce (Lund) Mears and Carroll Ann (Imle) Mears, ended in divorce. His fourth wife, Frances (Rioux) Mears, also a journalist with The AP, died of cancer in 2019.
After his retirement in 2001, Mr. Mears journalism at the University of North Carolina and lived in Chapel Hill.
In addition to his daughter Susan, from his marriage to Joyce Mears, Mr. Mears after another daughter from that marriage, Stephanie Stich; a brother, William; and five grandchildren.
The afternoon before he died, Susan Mears said, his daughters kept him company, along with a Methodist preacher who had known him for a long time. The pastor, who uses the expertise of Mr. Mears in American politics recalled a conversation many years earlier in which he was amazed at how much Mr. Mears knew about the 1936 presidential election, which took place when he was 1 year old.
While Mr. Mears appeared to be asleep, the pastor tried to remember the name of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Republican challenger.
Before one of the Mears daughters had a chance to answer, they heard a familiar voice—softer and slower than they were used to, but with the speed, authoritative tone, and factual composure that had guided America’s leading political reporters for decades.
“Alf Landon,” said Mr. Mears.