Peter L. Wolff, a lawyer turned journalist who is credited with shedding light on important but often overlooked issues affecting D.C.’s local neighborhoods in his role as editor and publisher of the InTowner newspaper for more than 35 years, died April 13 at his Dupont Circle home. He was 84.
His partner of 48 years, Kerry Touchette, said he and Wolff were having lunch at their dining room table when Wolff suddenly lost consciousness. Touchette said paramedics, who arrived at the scene minutes after he called 911, were unable to revive Wolff and believe he suffered a heart attack or brain aneurysm.
Touchette and others who knew Wolff described him as a kind and generous person who cared deeply about D.C.’s neighborhoods and the people who lived there.
The InTowner, which Touchette said Wolff bought in 1985, was founded in 1968 as a neighborhood news publication. Under Wolff’s role as editor and publisher, the paper focused on the neighborhoods of Dupont, Logan, Thomas, and Scott Circles; Dupont East; Shaw; and Mount Vernon Square.
“Peter Wolff shared his life and his love of our neighborhoods with Kerry and with his neighbors for nearly half a century,” said Mike Silverstein, a longtime Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and retired journalist. “He was kind and professional always,” Silverstein said.
“The InTowner was a source of community news and information with some wonderful historic and lifestyle features,” Silverstein continued. “It has been more like Peter’s gift to the community. At a time when local news outlets are struggling to survive everywhere, Peter’s loss hurts all the more,” said Silverstein. “He will be missed as a friend, as a neighbor, and as a respected member of the community.”
Touchette said Wolff was born and raised in New York City in Manhattan as the son of noted labor arbitrator Sidney Wolff. According to Touchette, Peter Wolff received his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and his law degree from Cornell University Law School in Ithaca, N.Y.
Wolff moved to Washington, D.C. in the early 1960s during the Kennedy administration to work for the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, Touchette said. He later worked for the American Association of Law Schools before becoming executive director of the National Association of College and University Attorneys, Touchette recounted.
“And then after that he decided to become a journalist and began his association with the InTowner,” said Touchette. “It had already been running for a while as a mimeographed tabloid kind of thing. And he took it over and developed it into a hard news neighborhood newspaper.”
Touchette noted that Wolff operated the InTowner from the couple’s townhouse at 1730 Corcoran St., N.W. in the Dupont Circle area since the time Wolff bought it from its original owner, John Schulter. Touchette said he pulled up records from a file at the house, where he and Wolff have lived since 1973, showing Wolff’s purchase of the InTowner took place in 1985.
He noted that about eight years ago due to changing financial issues impacting many local and other newspapers, Wolff made the decision to discontinue the InTowner’s print edition and switched to an online only publication. It has always operated as a weekly publication under Wolff’s role as editor and publisher.
“He loved to mentor people,” Touchette said. “He frequently used students from the universities who were journalism students to give them an opportunity to be in print. And he edited everybody’s articles very carefully.”
Added Touchette, “And he was very fair about many issues. He wasn’t trendy. He was trying to go for the facts, facts, facts all the time.”
Paul Williams, a longtime friend of Wolff’s who wrote articles for the InTowner on historic preservation related issues, said Wolff was very thorough in his neighborhood news coverage.
“He was always a presence at any ANC meeting,” Williams said. “He loved writing about new developments, building renovations, house tours. He was a man about town. He knew everybody.”
In its most recent edition, which is dated April 10, Wolff published what became his last editorial, which reflects his thoughts on the economic impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic on D.C. and its local neighborhoods.
“There is no question that this will mean the shelving of many important needed projects and program expenditures,” Wolff wrote in discussing upcoming decisions by the D.C. government. “The challenge will be that when the cutting gets underway that it be done with a scalpel and not an axe.”
Wolff is survived by Touchette, his partner of 48 years; his brother Michael Wolff of New York City; a nephew and two nieces, and many friends.
Touchette said that due to coronavirus restrictions, a private service was scheduled to be held at Torchinsky’s Hebrew Funeral Home in Takoma Park, D.C. on Friday to be followed by a burial at Congressional Cemetery. A memorial service is planned for a later date after the current health emergency restrictions are lifted.