Lauraine Wagner was hired in 1977 as the women’s editor of The Evening Capital, a job she took after her four sons had graduated from high school.
It wasn’t long before she knew something needed to change at the daily newspaper of sleepy Annapolis, the state capital of Maryland.
“Her title was a title shared by most newspapers,” said Tom Marquardt, former editor and publisher of The Capital. “But, she was one of the first people to stand up and say that title was sexist when the section represented the entire community.”
Marquardt said the title rankled Wagner. Both were hired the same year, when the newspaper was an afternoon daily distributed six days a week, produced out of an old bowling alley at West and Southgate streets.
Wagner got the title changed, and her tenure would last 10 years until she and her husband, Air Force Lt. Col. Richard Henry Wagner retired.
“She was always thinking ahead and was well-loved in the community and very supportive of community organizations. Really just a gem,” Marquardt said.
Wagner, 91, passed away on Sunday in Fort Collins, Colorado, and will be inurned next to her husband at the Air Force Academy cemetery. He was one of the academy’s first instructors when it was established in 1954.
Lauraine Joan Johnson was born in Holyoke, Colorado, July 1, 1926. As a young woman, she helped her father build a stone cottage in Colorado that is still in the family.
A graduate of Denver University with a degree in journalism, Bruce Wagner said his mother was an athlete at the university before it was accepted.
“She played football, tennis, and was a natural archer in college. She was not afraid of pushing the limits of gender and generally accepted patterns in her day.”
After she married, the couple was transferred by the Air Force several times before arriving in the Annapolis area. Two of their four sons were born in Germany.
She took the job at The Evening Capital,and quickly began pushing for a change. The newspaper would change its name a decade later when a Sunday morning edition started and moved to daily morning distribution in 2015.
“It was the trend at the time. Those pages were for women,” Marquardt said. “Weddings. Engagements. Fashion trends. Club news. The section was designed for women.”
She approached then-Executive Editor Ed Casey in 1978. He suggested titles such as “society editor.”
“It was revolutionary to do this,” Marquardt said, “Lauraine was pretty adamant about it. Society editor didn’t fit. There was a lot of pressure from her and (longtime food and home writer) Fran Jaques. We re-analyzed the whole thing.”
Eventually, the section was renamed “Community News.”
“She usually got her way when she felt it was right,” said Bruce Wagner, who lives in Annapolis with his wife Denise.
Mary Felter was hired full-time in 1986 to replace Mrs. Wagner just before she retired in 1987.
“She had her finger on the pulse of the community,” Felter said, who would go on to spend more than two decades in the job.
She said Wagner mentored the paper’s young reporters through the obstacles of covering a story. She taught and enforced basic journalism rules in her section of the newsroom.
Kim Welty, former director of classified advertising and now a sales representative at the news organization, recalled Wagner as a “very friendly, outgoing woman, with a great interest in our community and its happenings.”
“Lauraine was very organized and very efficient,” said Jaques, who had a 30-year career at The Capital. “Although she had a staff-sergeant approach in that things were to be done right and in the correct order.”
Jaques was surprised to discover Wagner was also a terrific actress. She performed in at least one production by Colonial Players, an amateur theater group in Annapolis.
“She covered a variety of stories, not just high society, but everybody,” said Felter.
Among Wagner’s favorite interviews were comedienne Phyllis Diller, who performed a at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, and TV news anchor Walter Cronkite aboard his sailboat on the Chesapeake Bay.
“She loved her 10 years at The Capital,” Wagner said. “It was her joy.”
Lauraine and Richard Wagner had four sons: Steven of Radiant, Virginia, and his wife Bonny; Mark Wagner of Fort Collins, Colorado; Bruce Wagner of Annapolis, and David Wagner who resides in Chile.
Funeral arrangement details have not yet been announced.