Todd A. Culbertson, retired editorial page editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and an avid traveler, bibliophile and gastronome known for approachable conservatism, pithy wit and bow ties, died Monday outside his Henrico County home of an apparent heart attack. He was 68.
Mr. Culbertson retired from the newspaper in 2017, capping a career with The Times-Dispatch and its since-shuttered sibling, The Richmond News Leader, that began in 1976. He came to The Richmond News Leader from the legislative staff of U.S. Sen. James L. Buckley, R-N.Y., whom Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan had defeated.
A native of Southern California who traced his family roots to Colonial Massachusetts, Mr. Culbertson grew up in the Hollywood Hills, above Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. In 1965, his family moved to Denver, where he attended Thomas Jefferson High School. He graduated from Principia College in Elsah, Ill., with a bachelor’s degree in history.
He served a year in Volunteers in Service to America, the domestic counterpart of the Peace Corps now known as AmeriCorps VISTA.
Mr. Culbertson came to Washington, D.C., to work as a clerk in the Senate Document Room under the patronage of Sen. Peter H. Dominick, R-Colo., and then worked for Buckley.
After joining The Richmond News Leader, he wrote editorials on local, state, national and global politics. He also displayed a capacity for whimsy and writing interests that might have seemed inconsistent with his bookish image, including NASCAR.
With the merger of Richmond’s morning and evening papers in 1992, Mr. Culbertson transferred to the editorial department of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He held numerous positions before the paper named him editor of the editorial pages in 2006.
Under his leadership, the opinion section of the newspaper won numerous state, regional and national awards for its editorials, columns and page design.
A. Barton Hinkle, who succeeded Mr. Culbertson as editor of the editorial pages in February 2017, noted shortly after Mr. Culbertson announced his intent to retire: “Todd has a voracious intellectual appetite that devours books at a frightening pace. He also has an encyclopedic memory that can summon more data and anecdotes on a given topic than just about anything except Google.
“For four decades, he has delighted and educated readers with commentaries on everything from ballet and NASCAR to Rappahannock oysters and Russian intrigue. He’s been an inspiration to us all.”
An opera and ballet enthusiast who extensively had written on those arts, Mr. Culbertson helped readers to see the “joy, truth and sorrow in all great music, dance, drama, painting, sculpture and literature,” according to a Times-Dispatch editorial on April 21, 2017.
After attending a performance of the Richmond Ballet in New York’s Joyce Theater that year, he joined the company’s dancers, patrons and friends at a reception at The Standard Hotel, where the company presented him with the Richmond Ballet Lifetime Achievement Award for Support of Dance. The award recognizes people who make their living outside the arts world but whose efforts have materially supported the arts in general and the Richmond Ballet in particular.
Mr. Culbertson retired in July 2017 as senior editor in editorials, but continued for a time to contribute to the editorial pages. He had been in poor health in recent years.
At 58, he became an Episcopalian and made numerous references in his columns to the impact of faith. He had been a faithful worshipper at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, where he also had been a leader at the daily service of Morning Prayer for a time.
In a 2017 “Correspondent of the Day” letter to the editor, Jan Price, one of St. Stephen’s “regulars,” publicly thanked Mr. Culbertson “for sharing with us, in daily expressions of friendship and enlightenment, his broad cultural experience and deep spiritual awareness.”
Price wrote that “he challenges us to value sacred texts, as well as secular ones. He reminds us that liturgy cleanses our hearts and souls, and describes worship as a communal experience. We love his comment, ‘The Eucharist is called Communion for a reason; there is no division at the rail.’
“When he teaches us about local and global reconciliation, he takes lessons from holy texts. Reconciliation and redemption are ‘twins’ and, he adds, reconciliation being always the first born. With uplifting optimism, he insists, ‘Truth goes marching on.’”
Survivors include a brother, Timothy Eric Culbertson of Centennial, Colo.
Plans for a memorial celebration are incomplete.