Patricia Alsop, widow of prominent Washington columnist, dies at 86

November 10, 2012

Patricia Alsop, who became a medical research technologist in the 1970s after the death of her husband, the columnist and author Stewart Alsop, died Nov. 3 at the Carriage Hill Bethesda nursing facility. She was 86. She had a heart ailment, her daughter, Elizabeth Winthrop, said.

Mrs. Alsop was still in her teens when she entered the heady corridors of Washington politics and power during World War II, shortly after her marriage. Her husband and his brother, Joseph W. Alsop, wrote an influential syndicated column together, “Matter of Fact,” from 1946 to 1958.

Stewart Alsop later became the Washington editor of the Saturday Evening Post, traveling the world for his feature articles and columns. He later wrote a column for Newsweek magazine.

Mrs. Alsop, who spoke with a precise British accent and was known as Tish, was the mother of six children. She became a renowned cook and hostess and often entertained members of Washington’s social elite, including presidents, senators, Supreme Court justices, world leaders and journalists, at the family’s home in Washington’s Cleveland Park neighborhood.

“The Alsops’ large Victorian-style dining room is an ideal place for a dinner party,” a 1957 article in The Washington Post noted, “and is frequently filled with interesting people from all over the world whom the Alsops have met in their travels.”


Patricia Alsop, a medical technologist and widow of celebrated columnist Stewart Alsop, died on Nov. 3. She is seen here posing for a portrait in Washington, D.C. on August 11, 1957. (Jim McNamara /The Washington Post)

In 1971, Mrs. Alsop began to take care of her husband after he developed leukemia. He wrote a best-selling 1973 memoir about his illness, “Stay of Execution,” in which he occasionally described his family life and how his wife cared for him. He died May 26, 1974, at age 60.

After returning to school to study medical technology, Mrs. Alsop began working at the biomedical research laboratory of the American Red Cross in Rockville in 1978. She studied issues related to bone-marrow transplantation, which has become increasingly important in the treatment of leukemia. She retired in 1992.

Patricia Barnard Hankey was born March 17, 1926, on Gibraltar, the British territory at the southern tip of Spain. She was evacuated from Gibraltar to England in 1940, after the outbreak of World War II.

She was 16 when she met Alsop, who was serving in the British Army at the time. She later worked as decoding agent for the British intelligence service.

They were married in London on June 20, 1944, when she was 18. By then, her husband had transferred to the Office of Strategic Services, a U.S. organization that was a precursor of the CIA. Seven weeks after their marriage, Stewart Alsop parachuted behind enemy lines in France.

The Alsops settled in Washington in 1945, and Mrs. Alsop became a parishioner of St. Ann Catholic Church.

Survivors include six children, Joseph Wright Alsop of Prides Crossing, Mass., Ian Alsop and Andrew Alsop, both of Santa Fe, N.M., Elizabeth Winthrop of New York City, Stewart Alsop II of San Francisco and Nicholas Alsop of Little Rock; 15 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

During her husband’s illness, Mrs. Alsop often drove him to appointments at the National Institutes of Health. During one trip, he wrote in “Stay of Execution,” they admired roses that were in bloom.

“There was a moment’s silence,” Stewart Alsop wrote. “And then I knew that I wouldn’t see the roses next year . . . I reached out my hand for Tish’s. ‘I have just now run out of my small store of courage,’ I said. She squeezed my hand and said nothing.”

Matt Schudel has been an obituary writer at The Washington Post since 2004.