Virginia C. Tracy, 97, journalist whose work spanned six decades


Virginia Corrigan Tracy, a journalist and working mother who took her children along when she interviewed Cary Grant, died Friday at Keswick Multi-Care Center. She was 97.

In a career that spanned six decades and three Baltimore newspapers, Mrs. Tracy interviewed celebrities from Charles A. Lindbergh to Alfred Hitchcock. She overcame arthritis, partial deafness and the reluctance of an earlier era's newspaper editors to hire working mothers.

While covering the cultural scene for The Sun in the 1940s and 1950s, she often went to the opera or the symphony with her four children - and their homework - in tow. The children went along while she covered the christening of a newly built ship or hobnobbed with stars at opening-night parties at the Lyric Theatre.

"We had all these incredible experiences," said her daughter, Mary Burch T. Ford, the head of Miss Porter's School, a Connecticut girls preparatory school. "I remember watching her interview Marlene Dietrich, positioning herself so that she had Marlene Dietrich next to her good ear.

"When people used to say that a woman couldn't be a good mother and have a job at the same time, I thought that was just nonsense. I thought my mother was much more interesting than any other mother I knew."

"She was an amazing woman," said Margery Harriss, 91, a longtime friend. "She was rather fragile in her appearance, but she was tough."

Born in Maryland in 1903 and raised in Baltimore, the young Virginia Corrigan learned resilience at an early age. Her mother died when she was 7. When her attorney father remarried, the four Corrigan children were sent to boarding schools. Her father used to visit on Sundays, arriving on horseback.

She graduated from Mount St. Agnes College, then took a journalism course at the Johns Hopkins University and wrote features for Baltimore's Catholic Review. She was turned down in her first attempts to get hired at The Sun - an editor told her the paper had four women and didn't want any more, she recalled in a 1995 interview - but she landed a job at The Evening Sun in the late 1920s. One of her first assignments was to interview Lindbergh during a 1927 visit to Baltimore.

Forced to use a wheelchair by arthritis and deaf in one ear when she met and married St. Louis native Daniel O'Connell Tracy in 1936, she was eventually able to abandon her wheelchair and got a job as a feature writer for the St. Louis Globe, according to her eldest son, Daniel Tracy Jr. of Baltimore.

When her husband became a Navy corpsman during World War II and was transferred to Baltimore in 1944, Mrs. Tracy returned to The Evening Sun. The Tracy house at 19 John St. became the headquarters for the neighborhood children, who called themselves "the Bolton Hill Bonecrushers," recalled Richard Roszel, now a real estate broker and Roland Park resident.

"We all loved her to death," Roszel said of Mrs. Tracy. "She was just such an upbeat person, always happy to see you. ... She kind of marched to her own drummer."

"The house was always a mess," Daniel Tracy said. "It looked like the city desk - clippings all over the place - but she welcomed everybody. The living room was always packed with people."

Though she mostly wrote about movie stars and fashion, "she wasn't interested in society things," her son said. "That was her job. That was all women could do in those days."

Her stint at The Evening Sun ended when an editor accused her of tardiness and fired her in 1959. Mrs. Tracy immediately went to work as the fashion editor for the Baltimore News American, and the Newspaper Guild filed a grievance against The Evening Sun, with several co-workers testifying on her behalf.

"Her position was that the news didn't break on schedule," Mrs. Ford said. "She got the job done, but it was not necessarily 9 to 5." The grievance was settled when The Evening Sun offered to reinstate her, but she declined.

"It was the moral victory that interested her," Mrs. Ford said. "It was an example of her resilience and tenacity. She was not going to go gentle."

Mrs. Tracy remained at the News American until her retirement in 1970. After her husband's death at age 83, she lived with her eldest son in Roland Park before moving to the Keswick facility about 10 years ago. She was in good health until the morning of her death, which was the result of an infection, her son said.

A memorial service and internment will be private.

In addition to her son and daughter, survivors include two other children, George P. Tracy of Centreville, Va., and Virginia T. Perkins of Austin, Texas; a half-sister, Frances C. Demario of Baltimore; and 11 grandchildren.

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