Sarah Jane (Sally) Fulton Reston, the wife of the late James B. (Scotty) Reston, died Saturday, Sept. 22 at her home in Washington, D.C. She celebrated her 89th birthday earlier this month.
From 1968 to 1988 Mrs. Reston was co-publisher with her husband of the Vineyard Gazette. Both in those years and for three decades before them, she was his constant companion as he traveled the world as New York Times columnist, Washington bureau chief and the newspaper's executive editor.
It was in 1965 that the Restons first visited the Vineyard, spending the summer in the tranquility of Menemsha so Mr. Reston could finish a book he was writing. The Island "took," and three years later, international journalist Reston and his "Gal Sal," as he sometimes affectionately referred to his wife, bought the Gazette from country editor Henry Beetle Hough. Mr. Hough, with his wife, Elizabeth Bowie Hough, had been the Gazette's editor and publisher for 48 years.
A few months after their Gazette purchase, the Restons bought the tall white 1804 former Davis Academy house on Davis Lane in Edgartown, just behind the newspaper office, to be their Island home.
But Vineyard sojourns were limited because of the travels that were an essential part of the Reston job. Scotty Reston's work was just as much Sally's as his, for she not only accompanied him and hostessed for him, but back-stopped for him, advised and counseled him, edited and photographed for him, though skillfully seeming to be only in the background.
Virtually every summer, however, she would make sure the whole family of children and grandchildren gathered together in Edgartown to celebrate the July 14 French Independence Day birthday of the Restons' eldest son, Richard, and the July 4 American Independence Day birthday of their youngest son, Tom, with a dinner of lobster, corn and peas. (James B. Reston Jr. Day, as his father thoughtfully dubbed his middle son's birthday, was March 8, but he and his family, too, would join in the Vineyard festivities as often as possible.)
When the fireworks began, the family would enthusiastically watch the soaring rockets and the sparkling showers of stars over Edgartown harbor from the North Water street porch of present Vineyard Gazette editor and publisher Richard Reston and his wife, Jody, for patriotism was a vital part of family life. When her third son was about to be born, Sally had emphasized to the doctor that she wanted him to arrive on the Fourth of July and, sure enough, she and her physician succeeded in delivering Tom 20 minutes into the holiday.
On her Island visits, Sally always made sure there was time for nature walks at Cedar Tree Neck or Felix Neck or a stroll around Sheriff's Meadow Pond. She joined the Martha's Vineyard Garden Club and worked indefatigably to try to save what she had been told was the Island's second oldest elm that shaded her Davis Lane yard in Edgartown.
There were often early morning tennis games at the Edgartown Yacht Club courts. Sometimes there would be boating trips out of Chilmark with the late Donald J. Hurley. And sometimes Sally would go out to take pictures for the Gazette or do perceptive interviews with such Vineyard seasonal residents as opera singer Beverly Sills and author John Updike. Former Gazette staffer Virginia Poole recalls how Sally won the hearts of her young reporters by always remembering the stories they had written and complimenting them on their work.
It was in mid-life that she discovered photography. She not only photographed with a sensitive and artistic eye, but learned to do her own developing and printing. From time to time, her pictures of the heads of state her husband was interviewing would accompany his articles in The New York Times. Her Gazette photos tended to be reflections in a still pond, boats bobbing at anchor, a gnarled tree, a small boy at play.
For all her round-the-world travel and years of sophisticated city dwelling in New York, London and Washington, Sally always cherished her country background in a small Illinois town and retained a love of the beauties and restorative powers of nature.
As a young woman on the eve of marriage, leaving Sycamore, Ill., the town of her childhood, she wrote about "racing the wind down the creek" and lying under the trees. "When you grow up in the simplicity and modesty of a countryside like this, your spirit remains colored by its skies forever, with the cool shadows of the trees, and with the sunlit green of the sloping fields."
She was born Sept. 5, 1912, in Sycamore, the daughter of William J. and Laura (Busey) Fulton. Sycamore, in those days, was a county seat of 4,000 set in corn and soybean-growing country. Her father, a lawyer, later became an Illinois circuit and supreme court judge. As chief justice of the state supreme court, it was he who swore in Adlai Stevenson as governor of Illinois. Her mother's family had followed the same route as Abraham Lincoln's family, from Kentucky to Illinois.
Sally attended public school and high school in Sycamore and, in girlhood, developed a great affection for the piano. With piano-playing friends or relatives she always enjoyed sitting down for four-handed duets of Mozart or Beethoven.
In 1930, she left Sycamore for the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. It was there, one December evening in 1931, as Scotty recalled in his memoir, Deadline, that the "big event" in his life occurred when he met Sally Fulton with the "dark hair and thoughtful eyes and a smile that made me feel funny inside."
He was a senior; she was a sophomore, but they became inseparable - even talking dreamily of marriage, and she accepted his fraternity pin.
Soon, however, he was graduated and writing about sports for the Daily News in Springfield, far away in Ohio, his home state. For one brief period, in a romance that was to last for 64 years until Scotty's death in 1995, Sally asked to be freed from her commitment to be his girl alone.
She was 20. He was far away. She thought she might like to date other men, but in reality, she was as smitten with Scotty as he with her. Though she thought she should be dating some of the time, she concentrated on her philosophy major instead and on earning a Phi Beta Kappa key. And she closely held on to Scotty's fraternity pin.
By the time Sally received her degree from the University of Illinois, Scotty was in New York working for the Associated Press. He urged his intended to come east, which she did, for a visit. Then, eager to be near him, she began her career in New York as a journalist. She was an editor and writer for Mademoiselle Magazine and later worked for Reader's Digest in London. On Dec. 24, 1935, the young couple was married.
Two years later, they were living in London where the AP had assigned Scotty to write about sports and international affairs.
But next came World War II. Mr. Reston's journalistic responsibilities shifted to those of war correspondent and he moved from the AP to The New York Times London bureau. The family moved back to the United States, first to New York city and then Washington, which was to be their principal residence for the rest of their marriage.
Their homes were variously in Georgetown, in a house near the National Cathedral in northwestern Washington and, most recently, at Kalorama Square, also in the northwest section of the city. When their children were young, the Restons bought a little log cabin, as well, and moved it to Fiery Run in the Virginia foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
There, again, Sally could be at one with nature. Afternoons, the family would pile into their jeep, drive across the fields and up into the foothills to watch the sun set. Evenings, they would play games and read aloud - a favorite lifetime pastime. Tom Reston remembers how, as a boy, he would hurry home from school at lunchtime, as much to listen to his mother reading to him mellifluously from Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped or Jane Porter's Scottish Chiefs while he ate, as to eat the lunch itself.
Because of the Restons' virtually continuous schedule of travel, there was need of help in the family household. On a stay in Mexico - a favorite vacation retreat and a place where Scotty worked on books - they learned of a young Mexican, Frank Olguin, who became their cook, driver, man-of-all-work. It was he, under Sally's direction, who handled the tasks of everyday living. Sally's interest in and work for Mexican immigrants led to her being honored with the highest award of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, of which she was a board member. She was also a member of the board of the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College.
Although she was not a homemaker in the traditional sense of the word, her artistic eye helped furnish her homes with color and order and charm.
"She always made sure that there was a place for everything - for books and Scotty's pipe ashtrays - but nothing was ever so tidied up that you felt you couldn't put your feet up," longtime Washington and Edgartown friend Nancy Muir remembers.
She was especially fond of works of art. In the Restons' sunny Edgartown living room, an Island seascape by Thomas Cocroft decorated one wall; a rice paper scroll of water and willows from China covered an entire other wall.
The same good taste that she had in interior design was reflected in her selection of clothes. "She never got hung up about them," Jayne Ikard of Washington and Edgartown recalls, "but she always looked as if she had just stepped out of a bandbox."
But it is for her graciousness (albeit with considerable toughness behind it), and unfailing devotion to her husband that she is most remembered.
"They were a team and handed things back and forth to each other seamlessly," recalls Marian (Sulzberger) Heiskell, a close friend and former New York Times board director.
"She always backed him up. She was his memory. She would urge him to tell his stories. She had enormous intelligence and he would always talk to her about what he was doing. Theirs was a blessed partnership."
Another longtime Vineyard and Washington friend, Najeeb E. Halaby, found them the perfect counterparts for each other. "He was the dour, rumpled Scot - though with a twinkle in his eye. She was so lovely. I think she had something of the quality of a muse for him."
"I always think of Ladybird Johnson and Sally Reston in the same way - as wives who illuminated their husbands," said former U.S. Secretary of Defense and Edgartown seasonal resident Robert S. McNamara.
"Sally always put Scotty front and center," one-time Gazette intern Elsie Walker recalls. "Oh, Scotch," she would chide when he did something especially outrageous, "but if ever there was a woman behind a great man, she was it!"
Mrs. Reston is survived by her three sons and their wives: Richard and Mary Jo (Jody), of Edgartown; James Jr. and Denise Leary, of Bethesda, Md.; Thomas and Victoria Kiechel, of Washington, D.C. and five grandchildren.
Mrs. Reston will be buried beside her husband Thursday at the Leeds Church graveyard in the tiny rural village of Hume, Va., located in the valley farmland of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Vineyard Conservation Society, P.O. Box 2189, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.