Laurentian Reviews

Neal Burdick '72

Mary McGrory: The First Queen of Journalism By John Norris ’87 (Viking / Penguin Books, 2015)

Review By Stan Macdonald ’65

When Mary McGrory broke into journalism in the 1950s, newspapers were flourishing but they were male-dominated. Women were allowed to write book reviews and cover society events but were barred from news and opinion writing. McGrory, through the force of her personality, her drive and substantial gifts as an observer and writer, helped change all that.

She was a liberal and a Catholic and strongly rooted in her faith’s social justice teachings. For decades she regularly volunteered at a home for unwed mothers and their children. She didn’t consider herself a feminist, but she was a trailblazer. As a prominent syndicated columnist at The Washington Star and later at The Washington Post, her evocative writing over five decades captured the character of presidents and the drama and import of major events, including the Army-McCarthy hearings, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam War. In 1975, she became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. The award was for her columns on the Watergate scandal, and it must have been extra satisfying because President Nixon had placed her on his “enemies list” and his administration had the IRS audit her tax returns.

Her life story is admirably told by John Norris ’87, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., in his engrossing and well-researched Mary McGrory: The First Queen of Journalism. The book has deservedly received favorable reviews.

In contrast with many of today’s pundits on cable news, talk radio and the Internet, McGrory did her own reporting, whether that meant slogging along the campaign trail in wintry Iowa or sitting through long Congressional hearings. Like other journalists of the time, she drew information from politicians not only by face-to-face interviews but also by drinking and partying with them. Up close, she would take the measure of her subjects, and this would inform her work like this sentence from her column after Robert F. Kennedy was shot to death while campaigning in 1968: “His tragedy was not only that he had not achieved his full potential, but that uncertainties and pressures had prevented him from seeing what it was.”

Her approach, however, also raises questions about journalistic fairness and bias. Norris, who knew McGrory and clearly admired her, doesn’t explore these issues at length, but he does note problems, including her conflicts of interest. He writes that she covered Gene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy in the 1968 Democratic presidential primary despite the fact that she had “lobbied Bobby Kennedy to get into the race,” she and McCarthy “were close friends and drinking buddies,” and she had “recruited a man she was in love with, Blair Clark, to sign on as McCarthy’s campaign manager.” 

But McGrory made no pretense about being “objective.” She wanted to help shape the debate and influence events. She died in 2004 and as she had requested, her tombstone has this simple inscription: “Newspaper Woman and Volunteer.” 

Stan Macdonald is a retired editor of the Louisville (Kentucky) Courier-Journal. He has been a guest lecturer at St. Lawrence, where he has sponsored internships in journalism. 

Harry Reiff, Part II

Daniel Reiff is the author of the second volume of a comprehensive biography of his father, legendary St. Lawrence professor of history and government 1928-66. Teacher, Scholar, Mentor: St. Lawrence University’s Dr. Harry Reiff and His Family, 1938-1950 covers the professor’s classes and student research projects, campus events, his prolific regional activities and his scholarly work. Special attention is given to his daily letters that describe his behind-the-scenes work leading up to the formation of the United Nations. The book and its companion volume are available only through Brewer Bookstore.

Thriller writer Chris Angus ’72 returns with The Gods of Laki (Yucca Publishing, 2015). This one is set in Iceland and blends oil greed, its Viking past (both factual and mythological), its long history of volcanic eruptions, and a few left-over Nazis in a suspenseful tale that ultimately revolves around control of the world’s climate. What brings the disparate characters representing these interests together, and keeps trying to drive them apart, will startle the emotions and stimulate the intellect. As in Angus’s other works, some of the most ferocious action takes place underground, but is that locale literal or symbolic?

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown ’71 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) is a graphic nonfiction look into the drama that transpired after that devastating storm tore apart New Orleans in 2005. For readers too young to remember, Brown’s book revisits those troubled days and offers a clear view of Katrina’s notorious impact. “Gritty watercolor illustrations in somber colors project the cloud of despair hanging over the Crescent City, and brief bits of dialogue in speech bubbles support the facts that Brown lays out in a brisk, straightforward tone,” wrote a reviewer in the New York Times Review of Books last August (see the image above). “Brown doesn’t hold back in showing how the government failed in its responsibilities. Don’t look for a happy ending here.”

Scotland native Joyce Milne D’Auria M’83 has written two novels based on Scottish history, My Blood Is Royal and Billy Boy (CreateSpace, 2011 and 2013 respectively).The first tells the story of Lizzie MacGregor and is, according to the publisher, “an epic story of lovers torn asunder, family loyalties and betrayals, and one young woman’s undying dream of her Scottish Highlands home.” The second, by contrast, is set in the Lowlands and tells the story, as the subtitle puts it, of a child “caught between the Orange and the Green” who must choose which heritage to call his own.

Dune shacks are a summer way of life little-known to those who are not Cape Codders. In her memoir The Watch at Peaked Hill (Schiffer Publishing, 2015), Josephine Couch Breen Del Deo ’47 describes half a century of occupying one, and of working to preserve the Cape dunes and their iconic minimalist structures. In so doing she portrays contests with both nature and bureaucrats and introduces us to the freedom-minded, sometimes eccentric artists, writers and naturalists who populate the shacks. Generously illustrated by her artist husband, Salvatore Del Deo, the book is a paean to the independent life as the world seems to grow less hospitable to that life.

William Hastings ’02 is the author of the hard way (Tiber Bark Press, 2014). “In an age when much food and travel writing has become flashy lifestyle musings of the rich, Hastings has given us the earnest and energetic memoir of a man who begins his travels poor and finishes with only a few bucks, but wo along the way learns the pure, sensual joy of cooking and eating,” reports the cover flap. We go with him to the Virgin Islands and the Middle East, where we learn to fix food their way, and even pick up a few recipes.

The late Harold H. “Prince Hal” Schumacher ’33 was one of the most successful of the few Laurentians who have gone into professional athletics. A highly-regarded pitcher for the New York Giants in an era when their line-up was packed with stars, he appeared in three World Series and in the first All-Star Game. He also, famously, brought his team to St. Lawrence in the midst of the 1933 season. They played the Saints on his June Commencement Day, for he had joined the Giants before he graduated. In Hal Schumacher: The Prince of the New York Giants and the Pride of Dolgeville (Trafford Publishing, 2015), Roger Glen Melin gives generous space to the righty’s time in Canton, acknowledging how rare it has been for anyone to complete a college degree while on the roster of a major-league sports team.

The title Cherry Farcical, A Ridiculously Unrealistic Attempt at Resurrecting American Literary Humor (Pressing Matters Publications, 2015) pretty much says it all – you know right off the bat what this volume by Doug Miller ’71 is all about. Miller calls it “a compilation of humorous take-offs on real stories that have appeared in newspapers, magazines and online news sites,” and the riffs, some accompanied by line drawings by Steve Hussey ’71, leap from Oreos addiction to lost potted plants to the size of men’s ears (they get larger with age) to monkey behavior to a Ted Cruz coloring book.

Richard M. Romano ’62, considered an authority on higher education finance, has authored Financing Community Colleges: Where We Are, Where We’re Going (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015). A retired SUNY faculty member and administrator, he’s now a research fellow at the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute at Cornell University. He says, “The book draws on 30 years of research and highlights current trends and future prospects.” It’s part of a series commissioned by the Association of Community College Trustees.

Melissa Gillon Stacy ’02 is the author of two novels that rely to varying degrees on the college experience. Readers will recognize several elements of the setting for the first, The Etiquette of Wolves (CreateSpace, 2013), a small campus with a chapel and a field hockey team and fraternity parties, after a late-summer one of which something goes horribly wrong. The second, Love & Student Loans & Other Big Problems (CreateSpace, also 2013) picks up after college graduation, and the last part of the title suggests the conflict in this one, especially after a strange man enters the protagonist’s life. Religious Studies major Melissa Stacy lives in Durango, Colorado.

Selected Recent Scholarship by Our Faculty

Professor Emeritus of Anthropology Richard Perry remains active in retirement, having recently published Killer Apes, Naked Apes, and Just Plain Nasty People: The Misuse and Abuse of Science in Political Discourse (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015). Perry takes on the concept of biological determinism, which brought humanity such tragedies as eugenics, forced sterilization and death camps and was employed as justification for all manner of violent bigotry over the past 150 years. He urges that scientific research be conducted properly and argues that “both history and cross-cultural studies amply demonstrate the human capacity for growth and self-determination,” according to the publisher’s announcement.

Lewis Professor of Modern Languages Steven White’s new book Rubén Darío y Salomón de la Selva: ecos de la muerte y la guerra has been published in León, Nicaragua, as part of a recent conference on the 100th anniversary of the death of Darío (1867-1916), one of Latin America's foremost writers. The book includes an essay on the construction of Darío's social thought as well as translations into Spanish of newly-discovered letters that Salomón de la Selva, another important Nicaraguan poet, wrote in English to his circle of prominent literary figures in New York, such as Edna St. Vincent Millay, Amy Lowell and Edwin Markham.

A study conducted by Pamela Thacher and Serge Onyper, both associate professors of psychology, was recently published in the academic journal Sleep. Their longitudinal study in the Glens Falls, New York, school district suggests that delaying high school start times can improve tardiness and disciplinary problems in the classroom. The full study can be found at

Alexander K. Stewart, assistant professor of geology, has a chapter in Military Geosciences and Desert Warfare (Springer New York, 2016). "U.S. Army Agriculture Development Teams, Afghanistan: The Role of the Geoscientist" examines U.S. Army teams consisting of 12 soldier-expert hybrids working directly with Afghanistan officials and farmers to support their agricultural needs.

Susan Willson, associate professor of biology, has published a manuscript in the Adirondack Journal of Environmental Studies on her research into colorful collars to prevent cats from killing birds. Her research was published in the January 2015 edition of Global Ecology and Conservation and has been featured in The Atlantic, among other national publications.