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Waite’s path to acting was long and meandering. Born on June 22, 1928, in White Plains, N.Y., he served in the Marines before earning his bachelor’s degree at Bucknell. Next he became an ordained minister and spent four years as a Presbyterian pastor. After that came a stint as a book editor at Harper & Row. Then, on a friend’s suggestion, Waite tried acting school. By the early ’60s he was landing parts on Broadway.
Waite won small roles in films like Cool Hand Luke and the TV miniseries Roots. But he became a kind of national treasure as the patriarch of a Depression-era family on The Waltons, which aired on CBS from 1972 to 1981.