Cue music from The Writer’s Almanac and imagine Garrison Keiller reading this:
Today is the 100th birthday of journalist Frances Marie Lide, born in South Carolina (1909). Frances and her younger sister, Dora, were raised by their mother after their father left. Frances attended Converse College for a year before deciding she wanted to work for newspapers. She found a job with The Greenville Piedmont and stayed with them for 3 years writing stories about churches and schools.
After The Greenville Piedmont she worked as telegraph and society editor for The Greenwood Index-Journal.
Frances wanted more out of her life and career so she saved up $200, packed her belongings and took a train to Washington DC to find work there.
Despite having her luggage stolen when she arrived at Union Station, Frances inquired at several newspapers, but no one had a job. She didn’t give up, however and returned to one of the newspapers (The Washington Evening Star) where she was hired to cover Eleanor Roosevelt’s press conferences. Frances worked for The Washington Evening Star covering first ladies’ press conferences and other topics from 1935 through her retirement in 1970.
In 1985 when my husband landed a job in Alexandria, Virginia and we rented a house on Tennessee Avenue I met a woman who would influence my life in so many ways. Nearly as soon as we moved in to the small Cape Cod in the Beverly Hills area of Alexandria, Frances became a fixture in my life. She told us when to put out our garbage (and when to bring in the empty garbage cans). She loaned me her push mower so our grass wouldn’t be too long. She introduced me to the other neighbors on the block, even the ones she was not so friendly with. She wanted us to become good friends with the couple across the street, Ken and Pam, because she thought we were similar.
That first year in Virginia was a long one. I’d decided to take a year off teaching in order to learn about this new place we now called home. Frances was a Godsend. She took me under her wing and showed me around Alexandria, Washington, DC and Arlington. She showed me the best places to shop in Alexandria. We visited museums in DC. She took me to gardens in Georgetown. She even encouraged us to join her church, Beverly Hills Community United Methodist Church, which was less than a block up the road from us. We did join and enjoyed the community there.
Frances also told us stories of her days working for the Washington Evening Star and before that. She told how her luggage was stolen her first night in Washington after moving to DC from South Carolina. She told about being part of the press conferences for first ladies from Eleanor Roosevelt through at least Lady Byrd Johnson. She told of being present when Jackie Kennedy returned to Washington DC from Dallas, November 1963 in her bloodstained pink suit.
She introduced me to a few famous people. Frances took me to a reception for Lynda Bird Johnson Robb when her husband was running for Governor of Virginia. I mistakenly told Mrs. Robb that my father voted for her father. Frances also took us to the National Press Club a few times. Once was for a book talk with some famous man whom you would probably know but I’ve since forgotten. While there we saw Fred Friendly. Another time we went to the annual book festival at the National Press Club and stood in line to have James Brady autograph his biography, Thumbs Up. Anne Cottrell Free, a friend and co-worker of Frances, autographed her book, Animals, Nature and Albert Schwietzer.
The year we lived next to Frances we were learning many things. We were learning how to be husband and wife. Dean was learning how to deal with a 9 – 5 job. I was trying to figure out where I wanted to work the next year. We were learning how to live “inside the beltway”. Frances was helpful in all of those learning experiences.
After we purchased a home in a different neighborhood we still saw Frances, but not nearly as much. I got a teaching job, we began to make friends our own age and spent time working on our new house. I’d visit Frances once a month or so and she and I still had some outings during the summer. Frances was also always invited to important events in our lives, especially when our daughter was born. We’d also see her at church often since we still belonged to the church in Beverly Hills.
During those years we also met her two grand-nephews, Robert and Matthew. Matthew stayed with her one summer and I saw him a couple of times. She told me many stories about the boys as young children. They’d lost their mother when they were very young and Frances had a special relationship with them. I also met their father, Lee.
When we had our second child we knew that the house we bought would be too small for our growing family, so we made the difficult decision to move to Bethesda to be closer to Dean’s job. Frances let me know how disappointed she was, that we were moving, but I assured her we’d keep in touch.
We did keep in touch by phone often, and occasionally we’d visit her or she’d make the long trip to see us. We did lose contact after a while though — although I did get to see her when she was in the hospital shortly before she died in 2000.
The thing I remember most about Frances is her ability to listen. She’d listen and ask pertinent questions and when appropriate gave solid advice. She encouraged me to write and I said I would, but never really did unless you count blogging. She listened when I described this cool new tool I was learning to use called the Computer and the Internet, but shook her head when I suggested she check it out.
Frances was a democrat through and through and I think she would have been pleased at this last year’s election results.
I’ve got a video of Frances, given to me by her grand-nephew Robert, but it is hidden somewhere in the house and probably copyrighted anyway — it is of Frances and three other women journalists talking about Eleanor Roosevelt. I remember watching part of it with her when she got a tape of it. If I find it I’ll try to find a way of uploading at least Frances’ portions.
There is so much more in my head about this woman, and even more in my heart. I’ve written about her before and probably will again. In the past I’ve had comments from other people who knew her, including her nephew, Robert. To celebrate Frances’ birthday I ordered a copy of War, Women, and the News: How Female Journalists Won the Battle to Cover World War II by Catherine Gourley. I contacted Ms Gourley when I saw that Frances was mentioned in the book, but was disappointed that she didn’t actually know her — but was fascinated by what she’d read about her.
Happy Birthday, Frances. Thanks for everything!