Nancy Dickerson Whitehead – Pioneering News Person & Military Wife

From a contemporary press report: Ooctober 1997

Nancy Dickerson, 70, a noted radio and television correspondent who became an independent producer of documentaries on topics ranging from the status of women in the Arab world to Watergate, died October 18, 1997 at a hospital in New York. Her death was attributed to complications of a stroke.

Ms. Dickerson, a Midwesterner by birth and a former schoolteacher, came to Washington in the early 1950s. After a brief period working for Georgetown University, she took a job as a researcher with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The result was a passion for the inner workings of the national government in general and the interplay between politics and journalism in particular that led to a career of more than four decades.

In “Among Those Present,” a memoir she published in 1976 covering the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford administrations, Ms. Dickerson recalled that the old Washington Daily News once offered her a job as women's editor but that she turned it down because “it seemed outlandish to try to change the world” by writing “shopping and food columns.”

She wanted to cover politics and world affairs, a field almost entirely dominated by men at that time. In 1954, she got her break when she was hired by the CBS News bureau in Washington to produce a radio show called “The Leading Question.” She also was an associate producer of “Meet the Press.” In 1960, CBS made her its first female correspondent. From 1963 to 1970, she reported for NBC News.

In those jobs, she covered political conventions, election campaigns, inaugurations, Capitol Hill, the White House and Congress — the whole range of Washington news. She traveled the world with various presidents and reported from Europe, the Middle East and the Far East.

In 1963, she covered the March on Washington, in which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. In 1970, she represented the Public Broadcasting System in an interview with President Richard M. Nixon in which all the major networks took part.

In 1971, Ms. Dickerson launched herself as an independent broadcaster and producer whose work was syndicated. From 1971 to 1974, she was the first woman to have a daily news program on network television, “Inside Washington.” In 1980, she founded the Television Corporation of America, through which she produced documentaries for PBS and other clients.

From 1986 to 1991, Ms. Dickerson was a commentator on Fox TV News. In 1996, she helped anchor PBS's coverage of the presidential election returns.

The documentaries she reported and produced included “Nancy Dickerson, Special Assignment: The Middle East,” in which she interviewed President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel; “Islam: The Veil and the Future,” about women in the Arab world; “Nancy Dickerson and the New Woman,” an examination of the women's movement in the United States; “A House Divided,” about the U.S. House of Representatives; and “Being with John F. Kennedy,” on the personality of the late president.

In 1982, Ms. Dickerson produced “784 Days That Changed America — From Watergate to Resignation,” an account of the scandal that forced Nixon from office. For that, she received a George Foster Peabody Award from the University of Georgia and the Silver Gavel award from the American Bar Association.

Born Nancy Conners Hanschman in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, a Milwaukee suburb, Ms. Dickerson attended Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa, and then the University of Wisconsin, where she graduated with an education degree in 1948. She was a teacher in Milwaukee until moving to Washington in 1951. She spent one summer taking graduate courses at Harvard University, and she took courses in speech and drama at Catholic University to better her skills as a broadcaster.

Ms. Dickerson was a recipient of honorary degrees from American International College and Pine Manor College. She was a past vice president of the Washington Press Club. She lived in McLean until moving to New York in 1989.

Her marriage to C. Wyatt Dickerson ended in divorce.

Survivors include her husband, John C. Whitehead of New York; five children from her first marriage, John Dickerson and Elizabeth Earls, both of Washington, Michael Dickerson of Atlanta, Jane Dickerson of Arlington and Ann Pillion of Villanova, Pa.; four stepchildren, Anne Whitehead Crawford and Robert Chartener, both of New York, Gregory Whitehead of Nantucket, Mass., and Sarah Whitehead of Providence, R.I.; a sister, Mary Ellen Philipp of Milwaukee; and 11 grandchildren.

She is buried in Section 3, grave 1316-A-LH, Arlington National Cemetery.

From a contemporary press report: December 1997

Belongs there

Rest assured – the furor over who deserves to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery can't touch the late Nancy Dickerson Whitehead, one of the pioneering women in network television whose friendships with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson made her a force to be reckoned with.

Nancy, buried in Arlington October 24, 1997 was the wife of New Yorker John C. Whitehead, the blue chips financier anointed “chairman” of the old-line WASP Establishment several years ago by Vanity Fair.

Whitehead went ashore at Normandy and remained in the Naval Reserves for nearly 20 years, which qualifies him, and his spouse, for their places at Arlington.

“I didn't use any pull or make any request,” Whitehead said, adding, “As a Republican, my request would have fallen on deaf ears.” (Whitehead served as deputy secretary of state during Ronald Reagan's administration.)

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