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Isabelle decided at a very early age that newspaper reporting was her game. Now I'd like to call on her older brother, Jack Graham, who is going to tell us something about Isabelle in those early days.
Jack Graham: Thank you, Fran. One of my earliest recollections of Isabelle had nothing to do with newspaper reporting, but it had to do with the fierce determination that she exhibited all of her life. It had nothing to do with anything remotely like newspaper reporting; it had to do with Major League baseball. She was introduced to the game while she was still in high school in Chicago, by an older cousin, and she loved it. Those of you who know Isabelle know that she never did anything half-way. If she loved it, she swallowed it, she ate it.
Every day after she left high school, Imaculata High School, which was six blocks from Wrigley Field, when the Cubs were in town, she practically ran all the way to the ball park, plunked down 50› for a bleacher ticket, and went in and watched whatever was left of that day's game. After a while, the friendly ticket-sellers were so taken with her that they didn't charge her the 50›. She probably only saw a few innings, anyway.
On weekends, though, she made up for it. She'd get to the ball park an hour or two early. The bleachers in those days were down on the field. She would chat with the players. This very vocal and enthusiastic teenager just won their hearts, and she came home with autographed baseballs, which she promptly gave, of course, after keeping some for herself, to her darling brothers. Only one of these balls remains, and it's in the possession of our nephew out in California.
Isabelle would take issues of the old Saturday Evening Post, an outsized magazine, cut them in half, the pages, put them down, take construction paper, paste it all around, then cut tabs out of construction paper, and made an A-to-Z index, and started clipping photos of her favorite baseball players out of the newspaper, and filing them. She had her own picture morgue. Maybe she did know she was headed to be a newspaper reporter.
Typical of a younger brother, always taunting his sister, I remember vividly asking her, "Why do you do a silly thing like that? There are pictures every day of baseball players in every paper." And her answer, I'll never forget, she said, "Yeah, those pictures are everybody's. These pictures are mine." I never asked her a question like that again.
But even baseball junkies get time off after the World Series is over in October, so she pursued other interests. She was always fascinated by newspapers, not just the sports pages. She read every part of the paper she could get her hands on. Eventually this led to her career
decision, when she was fourteen or fifteen years old, that she would become a newspaper reporter, come hell or high water—a very ambitious thing for someone when there weren't very many women reporters except in the features sections of newspapers.
Meanwhile, she continued to work at other jobs after finishing high school, and managed to attend three colleges part time—Mundelein College, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago. When Marshall Field III decided to pour part of his considerable fortune into founding the Chicago Sun, a new a.m. daily paper to compete with the formidable Chicago Tribune, Isabelle saw her chance. She applied for a reporter's job and was told there were no reporter jobs available. "But," they said, "the features editor needs a secretary." Would that interest her? Willing to take any job just to get her foot in the door at a newspaper, she said yes.
Now, the Sun started publishing just prior to World War II, so when the war kept growing, some of the male reporters went off to the armed services, and she kept pushing and pushing her various bosses at the Sun for a shot at being a reporter, a female reporter, in a field dominated by men, and finally, I guess probably to get rid of her, they gave her a break, and she became a reporter—and a damned good one. She stayed with the Sun until 1948, when she left to come here to marry Willard Shelton, who was then Washington editor of PM, a New York newspaper.
She continued her distinguished reporting career, starting first with the Cincinnati Enquirer's Washington office, and then moving to the Star in 1950. She retired from the Star in 1980. Other people will talk about what happened in those thirty years.
Isabelle was much more to me than my big sister. She was my mentor and the best friend anyone could ever hope to have. Four weeks ago to this day, my wife Betty died. She, too, was my wonderful companion and friend. I'm going to miss these two great ladies very, very much.
Fran Lewine: Isabelle's career spanned the civil rights movement and the women's movement. She covered women's issues, social issues, and politics, first for the Chicago Sun, then for the Cincinnati Enquirer, as Jack said, and finally, for thirty years, the Washington Star. Because of Isabelle's dedication to truth and accuracy and her joy in her profession and compassion for her subjects, she often became fast friends with those she wrote about. One of those special friends she made as a reporter was former Congresswoman Lindy Boggs. They were both veterans of the extraordinary 1,700-mile Lady Bird special whistle-stop train that Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson took through eight southern cities with forty-seven stops during the 1964 presidential campaign. Lindy, would you come up and say a word, please.
Lindy Boggs: Thank you, Fran. What a privilege to be able to say a few words about Isabelle Shelton, a person for whom I had so much affection, so much admiration, for so many years. Isabelle, as all of you know, was a perfect reporter, but also as Fran said, she sometimes had such affection for the people she covered, that she became affectionate friends of theirs. I'm so happy that I was able to enjoy that relationship with Isabelle.
I was thinking about her career and the women's movement, so called. She was always a person who lived the kind of life that the people in the women's movement nowadays feel people should be able to live, and that sometimes some of the recipients of that kind of life complain about the complexities of it, the difficulties of it. But just think about what Isabelle was able to do. She was a wonderful spouse, she had a good marriage, she had beautiful children, she was a good mother, and all the time, of course, she had the opportunity of covering the kinds of stories that took her all over the country. So she had to juggle household and children and marriage and
travel and workplace opportunities, and she did it all so well that many of us never even thought about the difficulties involved. Of course, I didn't mean to leave out grandchildren, because they were the joy of her life, as my grandchildren are of mine. But she was able to do all of these things all those years without any fanfare. She took it on as a natural ordinary kind of a life that you live as a woman professional.
Then she recognized the worth of other women who were not able to be in so-called professions at the time, and she was able to project the programs, the kinds of luncheon programs, the style shows, the kinds of dinner entertainment, and so on, that the women of Washington, who were brought here at the insistence of their husbands' ambitions, whether they were in Congress or in the White House, in the Supreme Court, in the Cabinet, in the military, in the diplomatic corps. And somehow they all felt an obligation to do something about the city of Washington and its problems and about the problems of the United States of America and about the promotion of good politics. She recognized that they were able to do this, and always reported with great clarity and great admiration the kinds of works that women were doing, thereby expanding their influence tremendously.
We had many wonderful times together in the tumultuous days when my husband, Hale, was the majority whip and when he was the majority leader. Of course, we did go on many campaign trips together, not just the Lady Bird special, but we went on the train the four years prior, the vice presidential train through the South. Of course, during the White House days, without Isabelle and other women reporters, Liz Carpenter would never have been able to promote the beautification program of Lady Bird Johnson in the way it was promoted.
We owe her so much. Isabelle dear, we owe you so much. I feel so strongly that ever since the days at least of the holy women of the Proverbs, women have been juggling husband and family and career and children and grandchildren. I think, too, like the holy women of the Proverbs, Isabelle was able to have her children rise up and call her blessed, and she was able to laugh in the latter day.
Fran Lewine: Another of those special friends of Isabelle's from political life was Esther Peterson, who had been an assistant secretary of labor, and also with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, was co-chairman of the Historic Commission on the Status of Women when it was launched in the Kennedy administration. She was going to be with us today, but unfortunately she couldn't make it, and she has sent the following message.
"My regrets are deep in not being able to be with you today. Isabelle was a shining part of my life, both professionally and personally. It extends over a long period, from helping to bring the women's press corps from the balcony to the floor, the equal pay fight, the President's Commission on the Status of Women to ERVC, the Eleanor Roosevelt Valkill Committee, of which she was an active member. She always brought her big salmon mousse to our fundraisers. She also brought a small one for me, knowing that I loved it. That symbolizes Isabelle for me. She thought of the larger issues affecting many, but never neglected the small ones affecting the few. Isabelle enriched my life and that of many, and will continue to do so. She will always be with us."
When Isabelle came to Washington in 1948 and became the bride of fellow journalist Willard Shelton, one of her first friends was Gladys Uhl, who was then a lobbyist for child welfare legislation. That friendship, one of Isabelle's closest, lasted throughout her years here. Now we'd like to call on Gladys Uhl Katcher to tell you about that.
Gladys Uhl Katcher: Thank you, Fran. As Fran said, Isabelle was my friend for forty- five years. We met in 1948, both married newspapermen that year, and shared what we had in those lean and happy days—everything from our goals and our dreams to our meals and our martinis.
Izzy was always driven and always giving. Her enthusiasm was boundless, be it how to make another chicken taste different—chicken was different and paychecks were modest in those days—to studying early Greek civilization on her return to college in her retirement years.
Her newspaper career was a demanding and gratifying one, but she also managed a household, was a dedicated wife and a loving mother to Gale and Diane. Later as a widow, she struggled and sacrificed for their college education. For this she was generously rewarded by their love and devotion, as well as seeing them grow into happy, productive, successful young women, well launched in life, and a special reward of her two beautiful grandchildren, Jennifer and Matthew.
Isabelle sparked with every new discovery. She wanted to learn, and did, eventually searching her own Irish-American roots with enthusiasm and discipline. I knew Isabelle as being generous to a fault, interested and interesting, compassionate and humorous, with a healthy love of life. Not too many weeks ago, she telephoned me one afternoon to report that she had written her obituary. If she were here today, she would have helped me to write this. I miss you terribly, Izzy, and I will never forget you.
Fran Lewine: In her long career with the Washington Star, Isabelle covered first ladies from Bess Truman to Pat Nixon. Her many assignments also included transportation and the launching of Washington's Metro subway system. While she was doing all that, for twenty years she wrote a weekly syndicated column for the North American Newspaper Alliance. I remember Isabelle working even on holidays at the beach, getting one of her extraordinary suntans while she typed to meet her column deadline.
Long-time Star colleague columnist Mary McGrory will give us some of her recollections of Isabelle in those Star days.
Mary McGrory: Good morning. Frances Lewine used the right word, as she so often did. Wire service reporters never have time to search, and they always come up with the right word, and she used the word "joy" in connection with Isabelle Shelton, and that is the word. She loved life, as everyone has said. She made things which were very difficult look easy, as Lindy Boggs has reminded us.
I remember Isabelle from the glorious old Star days. We're all great bores now, we alumni, because people think we imagined it, but we didn't. If Isabelle would be here to tell you, it was just as wonderful and daffy as we remembered it. She was very easy to love, of course. She had those lovely brown eyes and she had that great zest for life. She liked to laugh, and she was happy. She was a very centered human being. She loved her husband, she loved her children, she loved her work. But there was a great deal of hassle, I have to tell you, because she was a pioneer in what we call now Working Mother Department. There were no guidelines then. She had to make it up as she went along. We did have our "dragon lady" editors who did not understand that when Diane or Gale had a cold, that Isabelle had to drop everything and go home.
Nonetheless, she enjoyed it all. We used to have lunch in the old staff cafeteria, and we had Edwin Tribble, who was one of the wittiest men who ever lived, who regarded it as his obligation to entertain us every day at lunch with a critique of the paper, with perhaps special attention to Betty Beale, society columnist.
Of course, Isabelle was a Democrat in those Democratic years, so all told, it was a pretty good life. My fondest memory goes back to the fifties when the Star had a strike. I've tried to explain this strike to people, but it's no good, because there was never anything like it probably in the history of labor relations. I wasn't sure why we went out, and I don't think anybody else was, but George Kennedy, our resident firebrand at the time, told us that we had to march, and so we did. We had a very poor picket line—very poor. The management people would be watching us from the building, and they would say, "You have two women over seventy and three society reporters on the line. Are you afraid to buck them?" So there was a lot of scrambling and filling. Of course, Isabelle did her part. She never begged off of anything. She did it all. We could easily have understood if the mother of two young children did feel that maybe she should be excused from the line, but she didn't ask. She was there in the cold with the rest of us.
I might say, if the line was poor, the headquarters was delightful. It was over at the chicken hut, and it was run by John Cassidy and Charlie Seib, and we had sandwiches and drinks and everything. Our wonderful John Steppe would massage the feet of the lady marchers. So like everything else at the Star, it turned into kind of a social occasion, which, although we shouldn't have, I think we enjoyed a great deal.
Anyway, my memory is of Willard, also a strong labor man, a strong Democrat, and a newspaperman to his fingertips, who came to visit us on the line. We were used to visitors. The great columnist Doris Fleeson, a liberal Democrat like Isabelle, came in her mink coat with her tycoon husband Dan Kimball, and he absentmindedly dropped $100 into the strike fund. Then there was the wonderful appearance of Chick Yarborough. I am grateful to Harry Baccus, who wrote about this in the reunion publication. Chick had standards about everything. He was the best-dressed man I ever saw—a lot of hound's-tooth jackets and immaculately fitted suits. So he showed up for his duty on the picket line wearing a perfectly cut camel's-hair coat and a white silk scarf, and he joined the marchers. He pulled a silver flask of martinis out of his pocket, and he handed it to his partner in the picket line, who was a little taken aback, and he said, "What's the matter? You didn't think I was going to change my way of life just because there's a strike on, did you?"
So anyway, Isabelle was with us, and there on the sidewalk, opposite the Star, was Willard Shelton with their two little daughters, Diane and Gale. They were simply adorable, and we all hugged them and kissed them, and our morale was greatly raised. I thought, isn't it wonderful, Isabelle's whole life is converging on this line—her husband is with her, her working companions are with her, her children are with her. It all comes together right here, because she didn't want to give up anything, and she didn't have to.
As I said at the beginning, she was very easy to love, and she did. One of the last times I saw her was at the Star reunion, a glorious occasion, as those of you who were lucky to be there will remember. Isabelle was on the committee that brought that event together, and she worked with such joy and such enthusiasm. She loved it because she wanted to see all the people, and she knew she was making so many people happy. As I say, she was very easy to love, and I extend my deepest sympathy to all her family.
Thank you very much.
Fran Lewine: Few people get to hear their eulogies in their lifetimes, but Isabelle virtually did when she was honored at her seventy-fifth birthday party. Liz Carpenter, press secretary to Lady Bird Johnson, delivered one of those tributes. Because she was unable to get here from Texas today, we're going to give you some excerpts from those sentiments. James Ketchum, who was
White House curator in those years, also has some remembrances of reporter Isabelle on the White House beat.
James Ketchum: Gale, Diane, members of the Graham family, friends of Isabelle, this is a letter that is dated November 2, 1991, and it's from Grassroots down in Austin, Texas. It begins, "Dear Celebrants of Queen Isabelle's Diamond Jubilee, Well, we all have our treasured memories of our dear and loving friend Isabelle.
And mine begins the night Harry Truman whipped Tom Dewey. There we were in the National Press Club, listening, not watching, for TV was still unborn. The returns arrived in bulletins over AP [Associated Press] and UP [United Press]—almost archaic, it seems now. The posting was on a blackboard by the president of the club, and for three admitted Democrats—Les, Isabelle, and me—the returns were unbelievable. Tom Dewey was behind! 'Can you believe this?' I asked aloud. Isabelle giggled her famous giggle. 'No, but it's fun while it lasts. Let's go over to the Mayflower while it does.' We did. India Edwards and then the chairman—what was his name? Robert somebody. And the returns never turned. Those were the days.
That was only the start of a marvelous friendship, a real ring of friendship among us that kept us seeing each other across the press conferences of the Eisenhower years, the Kennedy excitement, and then LBJ—whistle stops, raft rides, tree-planting ceremonies, White House parties. And the great thing is, we were all friends pulling for each other, even more than sisters often do.
And speaking of sisterhood, how about the revolution which we were there for that July day in 1971 when the National Women's Political Caucus was born? What would they have done without us? What would we have done without each other? It is a full and rich life we have shared, and we are grateful that Isabelle's Diamond Jubilee gives us a moment to say just that. We love you, Liz."
Well, thirty-two years ago, as a green, wide-eyed kid from the farms of western New York, who had just signed on with the White House Curator's Office, I met Isabelle. What turned me to her immediately were what I called the three Gs—the giggle, the Graham, and the guts. Isabelle's famous giggle, when coupled with that distinctive voice, gave her a quality impossible not to love. It reminded me of those witty and wonderful actresses like Jean Arthur, who lit up the screen in Depression-era comedies. The Graham? Well, the Graham, of course, was her family name, and a name that is very much a part of my family tree. And best of all, we both claimed kinship to the Irish Grahams and not that other better-known variety. The guts were obvious to anyone who spent five minutes with Izzy. Her story from its earliest times in Chicago to her last days at Sibley Hospital is filled with one tale after another about a warm, funny, gutsy lady who swept us into her orbit, stole our hearts with her wit, compassion, and sense of fairness, and never let us go.
I worked at the White House for three presidents, and no matter what the story was or how tight the deadline, Isabelle always called before filing, to make a final check on facts. Weddings, funerals, skitterish dogs, wayward gerbils, restored Blue Rooms, presidential portraits, ugliest and otherwise—Izzy had the determination of Agatha Cristie's Miss Marple and the patience of Mother Teresa. Names, dates, artists, cabinet-maker, donor—she wanted the details and she wanted them to be precise.
What a pleasure to read her stories the next day. They were not only vivid accounts of the subject, but their accuracy meant that for those inside the White House, Isabelle's reporting was the best documentation of the executive mansion and its social history we would ever have.
We worked together on projects outside the White House, too. I doubt if there's anyone here who could refuse Isabelle's invitation to join her in a cause that needed extra hands and hearts. Whether it was a picket line at the Star or a fundraiser to open up the doors of the Gridiron Club, her conscience was our guide. During one of the great counter-Gridiron evenings of the early seventies, Isabelle was in charge of "flower power." Bitten by the beautification bug of the Mrs. LBJ era, she decided to gather flower seeds far and wide and sell them at a booth at the Mount Vernon College gym. For weeks before the event, seeds in bulk were arriving from all over the country. Isabelle spent days repackaging them in small glassine envelopes that she bought from the philatelic department at Woodward & Lothrop. Well, I'd saved hundreds of dried seedheads from a particularly fine variety of marigold raised in our garden, and when Izzy heard about this supply, she asked for them all. I couldn't resist. And next to Mrs. Johnson's wildflowers, the marigolds were the evening's top seller, raising many dollars for the cause. How horrified I was a year later when Isabelle confided, very quietly, that my "flower power" was sterile. The seeds that she'd talked me out of were from hybrid marigolds which were incapable of producing a new generation of plants.
In my thirty-five years in Washington, no one ever conveyed the quality of trust that was always so much a part of Isabelle's being. When I was named White House curator in 1963, a certain sensitivity to my youth and inexperience by Mrs. Kennedy's press office resulted in the release of a biographical sketch that listed my age as twenty-nine. I was really twenty-four. What a quandary. Aside from what adding half a decade to my age said about my parents' apparent shotgun wedding, as a practicing Catholic who believed that confession was good for the soul, I wanted in the worst way to purge my conscience and find someone I could tell my sin to. Well, since the fib had been foisted on the press, I decided I needed to confess to someone in the fourth estate. But who? Within an hour I was calling Isabelle at the Star and asking for her confidence. She heard me out, laughed that wonderful rippling laugh, and then reminded me of some of her youthful errors.
Then she closed with the clincher: "You know, you're never too young to learn." Well, I thought of that in later years when Isabelle in what she called her retirement period was taking courses in the classics at the University of the District of Columbia. "What on earth are you doing walking in the footsteps of Virgil and Cicero?" I asked. And her response, "You're never too old to learn." And isn't that the essence of so much that is our dear friend. You're never too young to learn, and you're never too old to learn. And some of what we have learned from Isabelle today and through all those years has filled our time with priceless examples of her joyful gifts. Let us celebrate her seventy-six years on this earth by following the advice of one of her most recent acquaintances, the classical historian Tacitus, who lived in Rome nearly two thousand years ago. He wrote, "Some day the last hour will strike also for me, and my prayer is that my effigy may be set up beside my grave, not grim and scowling, but all smiles and garlands."
Isabelle, we love you and we're going to miss you like the dickens, but we promise to do it with smiles and garlands.
Fran Lewine: As a reporter, Isabelle loved the Johnson years. We're going to call on her daughter, Gale Shelton Werthheimer, to tell about an inconvenient interview Isabelle had with Lyndon B. Johnson. It was interrupted by an official phone call, and Isabelle offered the president to leave so he could have some privacy. She reported LBJ said, "I trust you like I trust my mother."
Gale Shelton Werthheimer: In addition to being a hard-working newspaper reporter and a passionate believer in social justice, my mother also performed the difficult and delicate and pioneering and very uncomplaining balancing act known, as has been referred to her, as being a
working mother. To us, of course, my sister Diane and I, she was our mom. And because of her passion for swimming, my mother dubbed herself, when our children were born, as Grandma Porpoise. Somehow my mom both involved us in her professional life and her abiding love for politics, but she somehow always made time as well to attend our piano and ballet recitals and shuttle us to tennis lessons and run birthday parties. That she succeeded so selflessly and so well at both her professional and her mother roles with her wonderful sense of humor is illustrated in the following story that she wrote. It first appeared in the Star and it later appeared in the U.S. News and World Report.
It's headlined "A Mad Day with LBJ" [see Appendix 35]. "You ask for an interview with the President of the United States hopefully, but not too expectantly. The next Saturday, your day off, the phone rings in your house. It is the White House Press Office. 'You want to see the president? He has time at 11:30. Better get her by eleven.' A busy day of activity stretches ahead of you, culminating with the birthday dinner and dance for fourteen for your just-turned fourteen- year-old. A strange maid you've never met is coming at noon to help you through the dinner hour. You plan to go to the wedding and reception of Representative and Mrs. Hale Boggs' daughter Barbara. The birthday girl has an end-of-the-semester music exam and needs a new pair of shoes for her party. The cake has been ordered, but must be picked up. Groceries and flowers must be bought. Working mothers seldom do these things ahead of time.
"To the White House you respond tersely that of course you'll be there and thanks very much. One just doesn't tell the President of the United States, 'Sorry, I'm too busy today.' Then you wake your husband and break the news. Would he please make his own coffee and breakfast, care for the eight-year-old, and go get the car he had said he would rent for the weekend because your car is in the repair shop. Hopefully, you tell him, you'll probably be home a little after noon, in time to drive the child to her exam. Just possibly you and your husband can still go to the wedding and reception.
"It is 11:10 when you reach the White House. In a while, the secretary gets a telephone bulletin that your appointment may be delayed a bit. You phone the beauty shop to check on your daughter's hair appointment and learn that all is well. You write long lists of errands and chores. You revise them as the minutes tick by, passing more and more chores along to others. There even is a list for the eight-year-old. You also draft a line of questions in case the president should invite you to ask them. You aren't really sure whether you will have an interview or just a social chat.
"Your sojourn is not boring. A parade of familiar White House staffers goes by in the hall outside. At 12:30, a secretary comes in, puzzled. 'I don't know what to do about you,' she says. 'The president has called a press conference, but I don't think we should expose you. Your paper has another reporter here.' So you stay in seclusion.
"At 1:30, the president's secretary, Mrs. Roberts, comes in, apologetically says, 'Things have come up to delay the president.' You courteously offer to come back some other day. She says, 'No, he wants you to wait.' You ask if you could at least please use a telephone, and she takes you to one in her office. You order flowers delivered. It's too late to have groceries delivered. The roast is due in at four, but you phone the order so things will be ready, promise to pick them up by taxi. You meet the maid over the phone, find the car has been rented, the child has been delivered to exam, and the search for shoes is on. All is well.
"Another hour passes. By now it is 2:30 and you have rearranged your questions for the president three times. Finally, Mrs. Roberts comes and gets you. You find the president deep in thought, standing behind his desk. He looks up, smiles, apologizes for the delay, and asks if
you're going to the Boggs' girl's wedding reception. You had long since abandoned that idea, but you admit you've been invited to the wedding. 'I'll take you, and we'll talk in the car,' he says. 'But first we can talk a while here,' he adds. 'Do you have some questions for me?'
"You whip out your list. A half an hour later, you've gone through all the questions on your list, and the president says, 'All right. Wait for me in Mrs. Roberts' office a few minutes. Then we'll go to the wedding. But first use my powder room. Your hair needs to be combed, and put on some fresh lipstick.'
"You've got enough for a good story, but no reporter wants to turn down more. Every time he speaks, he fills in details, improves the story. Actually, the lead on the eventual story comes from the auto ride. But first there is that matter of the groceries waiting in a store near the White House. If you get way out to Bethesda, you'll never get them. You just can't ask the president to stop his limousine at a grocery store. The family is still shopping for shoes, with no assurance when they will return. You make a desperate shot at an emergency grocery delivery. If this doesn't work, you can't go with the president to Bethesda. The grocer rallies magnificently, promises to have the order there by 3:30.
"Off you go to the reception. The president is courtly, charming, and full of fascinating observations ranging over many subjects. As the car arrives at the Boggs', you stuff your notebook away, remembering the secrecy earlier at the White House. 'Take out that notebook. Let everyone know you're interviewing me,' says the president. In case anyone has failed to realize it, he then communicates this news to two syndicated columnists he meets just after alighting from the car.
"It is by then four o'clock, and the roast must go in. You give up trying to greet the bride and groom, and you race for a phone. The wire services are using the Boggs' only phone, heralding the arrival of the president. You search vainly for another phone, finally go next door, call the maid to put in the roast, and then call a taxi. As you emerge from the neighbor's house, the president is emerging from the Boggs' with Mrs. Johnson. He calls across the yards, 'Come! We'll give you a ride back. We haven't finished that interview.'
"The White House limousine sounds more dependable than the taxi, and you accept. By now Mrs. Johnson is giving you quotes, too. But all good things must end. As the limousine whizzes down Massachusetts Avenue past Spring Valley Shopping Center, home ties reach out. You had already said in the president's office, 'Mr. President, you must think I'm out of my mind, but I'm not going to write this story today. I have to go home and run a birthday party, and if I'm not there, there won't be any party.' 'That's all right,' he says. 'It's your story. Write it anytime you want.'
"In Spring Valley you say, 'Mr. President, I'm endlessly grateful, but I just have to go home now to that birthday party. Could you stop and let me get a taxi?'
"'Where do you live?' he asks. 'We'll send you home in a car.' A long black auto in the motorcade is commandeered by intercom phone. A Secret Serviceman riding in that car is moved to another, and the chauffeur-driven car is turned over to you. You're about to crawl out of the presidential car from the center seat between the two Johnsons when the president reaches in his pocket and says, 'Wait. That birthday girl. What's her name? I want to write her a note.' And he does. 'Dear Gale, I'm sorry I delayed your sweet mother on your birthday. Here is a hug and apology. Many happy birthdays.'
'You wouldn't have believed that traffic could pile up so fast from both directions. No one is blocked; everyone is just so fascinated at what is holding up the presidential procession. You say farewell and climb into the commandeered limousine. Regrettably, the family is still shopping for shoes and isn't there to see you arrive in splendor. But the roast is in, the house is clean, and by dint of everyone's frantic toil, the last party decoration is in place. The last zipper is zipped just as the first guest arrives at 6:30.
"The next week, an old White House pal hails you. 'I understand,' she says, 'that you're the only reporter in history who voluntarily broke off an interview with the president."
In closing, I would just add two things that my mom modestly did not include. The first is that President Johnson's note goes on to add these words: "Grow up to be as sweet and smart as your mother." As I recall, like everything else my mother touched, the party was a great success.
Fran Lewine: When Lady Bird Johnson learned of Isabelle's death, she sent this comment from Austin, Texas. "Isabelle Shelton was both a friend and a reporter in the fullest sense of the word. Her wisdom, kindness, and laughter combined to give her a sense of duty and a sense of compassion."
Helen Smith, who was press secretary to another first lady, Pat Nixon, sent this message. "The passing of Isabelle Shelton leaves a deep void in the lives of her children and a myriad of friends. She was my friend for many years when I was in and when I was out. That is true friendship, and I will miss her."
Although Mrs. Nixon was not well enough to send a personal message, Julie Nixon Eisenhower sent the following. "Life in the White House is a roller coaster ride, and there are few constants. But during the years my mother, Tricia, and I were in Washington, Isabelle Shelton was one of those rare constants. Hard working and dedicated, she was present on every occasion, it seemed to us. Her hard work and determination earned her the respect and friendship of her fellow correspondents, and I know she will be keenly missed. The Nixon family joins all of you present today in saluting Isabelle for her spirit and effective pen. We, too, will miss her."
We've given a lot of the flavor of Isabelle's professional life and times, and now for a little of what the years have been like since she left the Star in 1980 and then worked for a year as a special assistant to Liz Carpenter in the public affairs office of the U.S. Department of Education before she retired in 1981. Who else could do that better than Isabelle's younger daughter Diane. Diane Shelton. And we'll let you go home soon.
Diane Shelton: Thank you, Fran. I wanted to tell you today about my mother during the last dozen years when she was enjoying retirement tremendously. In her home I found some words that she had written about the joys of retirement, written, we believe, to inspire others to enjoy it as much as she did.
She wrote, "To me, retirement is a never-ending smorgasbord of wonders and delights. Granting repeating that I loved my working days as a newspaper reporter, there were many, many things that I had to sacrifice in order to revel in that great joy and opportunity. Now that great smorgasbord is out there for me to revel in. I echo many, many friends of retirement age in saying, 'I don't know how I ever found the time to work, I'm so busy.' That certainly is true. But what I'm now able to do is so interesting and so exciting, I almost don't know how to begin to list the new horizons available to someone with that great, wonderful gift of time. Maybe that's why I wanted to be a newspaper reporter in the first place, because I'm interested in a great many things. Nosy, is, I suppose, another word for it. I can't imagine being bored."
Well, my mother certainly was never bored. Retirement, to my mother, meant time to travel to many of the foreign countries that she had dreamed of as a Midwestern girl. She visited Greece and Rome and China and Russia, fascinated by, and delighted in, the history and most especially the people of each land. Her traveling companions proclaimed her, no doubt correctly, to have much more knowledge than the official tour guides, so thoroughly did she study for each trip. She returned each time with her luggage bulging with treasures found. Those memories and the wonderful friends with whom she traveled made her very happy.
Retirement to my mother meant time to sell the home of our youth and move on to a new phase of her life. After tenacious research, she selected a glorious sun-drenched condo on bustling Connecticut Avenue. It had a pool that she visited often. She often professed to be part porpoise, and nothing gave her greater serenity than the water and the sun. She adorned the apartment with stunning new furnishings, the first she had ever selected for her taste and hers alone. She filled the apartment with convention-watching parties for her political junkie friends, held book study groups, and delighted in gathering her friends around her often for marvelous food.
Retirement to my mother meant time to go back to college. Her thirst for knowledge and love of learning was immense and enduring. She studied Ancient Greek, Greece, and Rome, and revisited the history of Western civilization. She hoped perhaps to even complete her undergraduate degree, building on the college work that she had started oh so many years ago in Chicago. She chortled at the idea of being the only one in her eighties to collect a diploma in whatever year that came about.
Retirement to my mother meant time to join the computer revolution and buy a PC. But like the good journalist that she was, she researched the subject exhaustively, some might feel within an inch of its life. She spoke to me often about the subject and was quickly becoming an expert on megabytes and RAM. She fell sick just a few short weeks before she was to purchase the computer, but she would have enjoyed it immensely and used it well to tell all those wonderful stories in her memory.
Finally, retirement to my mother meant time to do all of those exotic things that she'd been flirting with doing because they appealed to her sense of adventure and zest for living. One of my fondest memories of Mom is of the two of us just a few years ago aloft in the sky under a parachute, parasailing across the Atlantic over gorgeous Bermuda. She had the biggest smile and the greatest delight on her face as we sailed through the air currents in the sun and over the sparkling blue water. I will never forget it.
Last we heard, Mom was still planning to celebrate her eightieth birthday by going bungee-jumping. We were all horrified at the thought, but she was entranced by the possibilities of those moments in flight. She didn't quite make that adventure which her family might have fainted from, but she had so many other wonderful moments during these last dozen years that made her so very happy. I shared many of those with her and was so glad for her.
Mom, I love you and will always miss you. I think of you every day in your next phase of life, swimming and frolicking in the seas of the world. You always said that you were going to come back as a porpoise, and I believe that. So swim away and I'll wave to you in the sea. Have a grand old time.
Fran Lewine: The day before Isabelle suffered a stroke, she and I were engaged in an annual ritual, viewing the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin. They were at their peak, probably the best we had ever seen them. I'll always remember her great enjoyment of that glorious day, and I
hope you will keep that scene in mind as we part today and say farewell to a very special person. If you will, pause now for a moment of silence and your own reflections or prayers.
© 1993, Washington Press Club Foundation.
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