Shirley Christian (Email
) – A few weeks after I first joined The AP in Kansas City at the end of 1966, I recall an article in The AP Log reporting that the roughly 1.200 “newsmen” of The AP were now a whopping five per cent female! That worked out to about 60 women nationally, maybe globally.
But the proof that they weren’t all hidden on the overnight in, say, Albany, Salt Lake, or Kansas City (as I was at the time) was that the byline Fran Lewine kept popping up on the A-wire. I didn’t aspire to cover the White House or Washington, but the fact that Fran was there, doing just that, meant that lots of things were possible. She wasn’t the first AP woman to take a prominent role in covering Washington — Lorena Hickock had already established herself covering the Roosevelt White House in the 1930s — but Fran made a deep and lasting imprint as the world of journalism opened wider to women.
The fact is that Fran was more or less consigned to covering First Ladies. I don’t know whether that was her choice or not, though I doubt it. My recollection is that she backstopped with the president when the male correspondents took a weekend off.
Fran went to lots of parties at the White House, which is how I met her, not at a party but while slaving away on the World Services desk. She was an old friend of Angelo Natale, who came back from Rome in the early 1970’s and took over as day supervisor in World Services. Angelo also moved into an apartment on Second Avenue, a few doors from me, and we became good friends. I don’t know how Fran and Angelo became friends, but Angelo had an unofficial role as Fran’s arm date whenever she needed an escort for a big White House event. As a good New York Italian with a taste for opera and fine food, Angelo had the charm and wardrobe for the unpaid job. When Fran summoned, Angelo put on his tux and bow-tie shoes and got on the train to Washington.
Whenever Fran came to New York she always hung out with Angelo, and he would proudly show her around our corner of the fourth floor at 50 Rock. I confess that the main thing I recall from occasional chats with her was that she wore very classy clothes, as probably expected at the Nixon/Ford White House. That was before Edie Lederer laid claim to being the clothes-hound of The AP.
Years later, it was an honor to have Fran join our 10-year-long discrimination complaint and suit against The AP. The settlement of the suit opened many more doors for women and minorities, but Fran proved that determination can accomplish a lot even when the odds are against you.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Christian joined the AP in 1968 on the Foreign Desk in New York and went on to work as the AP’s UN correspondent and as an editor at its Foreign and World Desk. She then became the AP bureau chief for Chile and Bolivia. In 1980, Christian joined the Latin America Bureau for the Miami Herald and began reporting on the Central American crisis, the political turmoil that was sweeping across Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. She won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting “for her dispatches from Central America.” She lived in Latin America for 20 years, rising to become the New York Times Bureau Chief for Argentina.
Linda Deutsch (Email
) – Fran Lewine was always proud that her birthday fell on Inauguration Day. I’m sure this year she would have been thrilled to share the day not only with Joe Biden, whom she knew, but with Kamala Harris, the first woman to hold the office of Vice President.
Like Harris, Fran was a trailblazer for women. She made it possible for me and other women journalists to build important careers in a profession that underestimated them for many years. She was my role model before I got to know her and I was the rare person who had the honor to have my hero become a best friend.
Our history was unusual. When I was in college in New Jersey, dreaming of a career as a reporter, I attended an event sponsored by Theta Sigma Phi, a woman’s journalism sorority that would later become part of the Society for Professional Journalists. The speaker was Fran Lewine, then the AP’s White House correspondent. Once, when she worked in New Jersey, she had been a stringer for the AP Newark bureau, a role that I would play when I worked for the Asbury Park Press. When I heard her speak, I was mesmerized. Her career showed that women did not have to be relegated to the social pages but could climb to the highest realms of journalism. She was an inspiration.
A few years later I graduated and moved to California where I became the only woman reporter in the AP Los Angeles bureau. I was a newbie when I got the plum assignment of backing up the AP team at the Nixon Western White House in San Clemente. That was where I got to meet the AP greats: Frank Cormier, Doug Cornell, and best of all, Fran Lewine. They welcomed me as an equal and I learned by watching them work. Fran quickly took me under her wing. When the day was done, she invited me to go out to dinner with her and her best friend, the legendary Helen Thomas of UPI. I was in heaven. On subsequent nights, the AP crew made sure I was always included in their dinner plans. I was amused to see that Fran and Helen, who battled each other for scoops every day, always shared a dish at dinner — a journalistic example of bipartisanship.
In subsequent years, whenever Nixon visited California, I saw Fran and got to know her better. It turned out that she was a longtime friend of my best friend, the great Theo Wilson. They had spent a memorable time covering Jackie Kennedy on a trip to India that bonded them forever. I also found out that her beloved cousin was the legendary Nobel Prize winning scientist, Richard Feynman, who lived in Pasadena. Fran would often visit him during her vacations and soon she began to visit Theo and me as well.
That’s when I found out about Fran’s secret life as a gambler. She was dedicated to casinos and managed to find one in every country she visited on a presidential trip. But Las Vegas was her favorite. She convinced Theo and me that we had to go with her to the gambling mecca and we did. What a revelation! Fran was a champion craps and blackjack player and always seemed to win. We were not so lucky, but we enjoyed watching Fran’s excitement at the games.
The key to Fran’s personality was joy. She was a glass-is-always-half-full person. She raved about the food at restaurants she frequented and savored our adventures traveling abroad. She was a great raconteur and her stories were always punctuated with her favorite adjective: “marvelous.” Her life with AP was not all roses (see Edie Lederer’s account of her career). But when she was pushed out, she found her way to the fledgling CNN and became a valued and beloved member of their news team. Politicians knew her from her days at AP and would give her scoops because she was Fran.