Mary Jo (Jody) Reston, former co-owner and publisher of the Vineyard Gazette, died in Sarasota, Fla on Monday, Feb. 12 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. She was 86.

Jody, as she was widely known, moved to the Vineyard with her then-husband Dick Reston in 1975 to take over the helm of the Vineyard Gazette. After years of living in Washington DC and all over the world with Dick, a longtime reporter for the Los Angeles Times, the shift to Vineyard life and community journalism was both abrupt and a return of sorts. She was born in Kenosha, Wis. and had always loved small town life and the importance of local newspapers.

Dick Reston said it was a mutual decision to come to the Vineyard as both were tired of “the distance between the impersonal journalism of the big papers and their faceless audiences.”

Mr. Reston said that while living abroad, Jody had often written articles for her hometown Wisconsin paper. She was also active in the diplomatic corps while they were stationed in Moscow.

“She was never a stay-at-home wife,” he said. “She was always out in the community, even on difficult assignments, like in Moscow.”

Dick and Jody Reston outside the Vineyard Gazette. — Alison Shaw

On the Vineyard, she flourished, he said, in part because of her endless curiosity and interest in others.

The two divided their duties, with Dick on the editorial side and Jody on the business side. When they started at the Gazette, the owners and publishers of the paper were Mr. Reston’s parents, James B. (known as Scotty) and Sally Reston. Dick and Jody took over those roles in 1988.

“She had a real facility and talent on the business side. She started out selling advertising and learning about the community,” Mr. Reston said, adding that she participated in every aspect of the paper.

This assessment was echoed by Tom Dunlop, who worked at the Gazette at the time.

“One of the marvelous things about her was that for someone who was on the business side of the paper, she was also a world class teacher of young writers,” he said, recalling how she would call him into her office to give him advice on how to get to the point of a piece faster.

Mr. Reston said Jody had an eye for talent and what employees were best suited for. She initially hired Jason Gay for an entry level advertising position but helped him move over to the editorial side, where he thrived at the Gazette and then went on to a long and continuing career at the Wall Street Journal. 

“Jody Reston was the heart and soul of the Vineyard Gazette,” Mr. Gay said. “She seldom took a byline, and I never heard her raise her voice, but for decades she was the steady hand behind the scenes, steering the paper through high waters as both a newsroom and business.”

Alison Shaw echoed Mr. Gay's praise.

"I had a lot of respect for Jody as my boss," Ms. Shaw said. "She wasn’t running the paper from behind a closed door in her second story corner office — she was very hands-on, and even fully involved during our many late nights (and occasionally all-nighters) getting the paper to bed and on-press."

Dick and Jody Reston were co-owners and publishers of the Vineyard Gazette. — Alison Shaw

Former Gazette editor Julia Wells remembered her “as a rock who ran the paper with a sure hand.”

“She had a high bar for excellence,” Ms. Wells continued. “She was so smart and civic minded.”

She was also active outside of the paper, volunteering for many causes, as well as serving on the board of directors of the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital for many years.

Her niece Betsy O'Brien Anderson, who worked for her at the Gazette for a few summers, remembered her aunt as both giving and caring, along with competitive.

“She had such a fondness for the people who worked at the Gazette and all over the Island,” she said. “She was instrumental in creating a family atmosphere at the paper.”

Dick and Jody sold the Gazette to Jerry and Nancy Kohlberg in 2010 and divorced in 2014, but remained close and kept in touch throughout the years, in particular with regard to the Vineyard Gazette.

“She would call up after reading the paper and say, ‘Have you seen how this or that on the Vineyard has changed?”

“She never lost her love of the Vineyard and the Gazette and the voice of the paper,” Mr. Reston continued. “The Vineyard gets in your blood and it was certainly in her blood.”