Regis L. Boyle, 95; Advised Students in Journalism Projects

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Regis L. Boyle, 95, who taught the fundamentals of journalism to generations of Washington area high school and college students, died Sept. 24 in Bethesda at a relative's home. She had congestive heart failure.

Dr. Boyle was never a professional reporter or editor, but she won top honors from journalism education organizations for her skills as an adviser. Many of the publications she guided -- including student newspapers at Catholic University, Wilson High School in Washington and Whitman High School in Bethesda -- were recognized for excellence.

Those and other papers she oversaw produced journalists who became reporters and editors at major publications, including The Washington Post and New York Times. Several of her alumni described her as a starchy, sometimes eccentric personality but as a teacher with a commitment to student journalism in school systems seldom generous with funding and other resources.

Dr. Boyle conveyed a formal style that was at times frustrating to young reporters. She placed strict emphasis on spelling, fact-checking, clear design and good taste at all costs, the last attribute not always welcome among subversive-minded students.

She once described tensions in the late 1960s with the "revolutionaries" of the Whitman newspaper who had hoped to publish a joking reference to sexual impotence.

She also thought some political subjects were taboo. In 1967, she sided with Wilson's principal to ban an editorial supporting home rule in Washington. As a result, the editors, including future New York Times essayist Frank Rich, printed a mimeographed newspaper containing the editorial.

Dr. Boyle could also surprise her students with an adventurous and competitive streak.

Richard L. Berke, a New York Times assistant managing editor who edited the Whitman paper in the mid-1970s, said Dr. Boyle never demanded before publication to know his sources for a story that drew national attention.

The story was about Vice President Richard M. Nixon's exposure to microwave radiation in Moscow at the time of the 1959 "kitchen debates" with Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev.

Berke said of Dr. Boyle: "She set a tone for quality and hard work. She was very tough and demanding and precise."

Regis Louise Boyle was born April 11, 1912, in Washington. Family members said she expressed some interest in pursuing a legal career in her father's footsteps but was pushed into teaching by her mother.

She graduated from Trinity College in Washington in 1933. By the end of that decade, she received a master's degree and a doctorate in English literature, both from Catholic University. Her thesis was about E.D.E.N. Southworth, a Washington writer known for melodramatic 19th-century novels such as "The Maiden Widow" and "The Missing Bride."

Dr. Boyle began her teaching career in 1942 at Eastern High School, where she was assigned to advise the yearbook and newspaper. She enjoyed the work, which Rich attributed to her appreciation for "the rigidity of putting out a newspaper: deadlines, making headlines that exactly fit the allotted space."

Within a few years, she started a summer session course for high school journalism students at Catholic University that endured until she retired in 1975. She then spent 15 years as a part-time professor at the University of Maryland's journalism school.

Dr. Boyle encouraged her newspaper staffs to join her on annual trips to experience New York's cultural scene, which included Broadway shows and manners-conscious restaurants. She enjoyed giving lectures on correct fork usage.

She was a former national president of the Christ Child Society, a charitable organization, and was a dame of the Sovereign Order of Malta, a Catholic lay religious group. She never married but spent 25 years as the companion of a widowed lawyer, Joseph A. Roney, who died in 1974.

She helped raise his three children, John Roney of Providence, R.I., and Ellen Hughes and Joanne Hepworth, both of Bethesda. Survivors also include his two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

For decades, Dr. Boyle drove a 1937 Cadillac she named Hercules.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company