Post Reporter and Editor, 'Chronicler' of Life in D.C.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Sarah Booth Conroy, 81, who chronicled the homes, history and changing personalities of the Washington elite as a Washington Post reporter, editor and columnist for more than three decades, died Jan. 12 at ManorCare Potomac nursing facility. She had Alzheimer's disease.
Mrs. Conroy, who wrote more than 2,800 articles for The Post, was known for her adept reporting on the city's diplomatic circuit and for her long-running "Chronicles" column about the city's history.
She was also considered a one-of-a-kind newsroom character who wore elaborately sculpted jewelry designed by her husband and whose honey-dipped Southern accent seemed to grow deeper with each decade that she lived outside her native Georgia.
Mrs. Conroy insisted on proper courtesy and, to gain a professional advantage, could wield her flawless manners as a weapon.
"I grew up in South Georgia, where gentility was valued over wealth -- admittedly in those years we had more of the first than the second," she wrote in 1995.
Once, early in her career in Tennessee, she attended a reception for Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. Because of tight security, reporters were not allowed to speak with the queen.
When the queen whispered to an attendant, Mrs. Conroy quietly left her seat and waited in the women's room. She emerged with an exclusive interview with the queen.
Mrs. Conroy first worked at The Post in 1966 and 1967, then spent three years at the old Washington Daily News before returning to The Post in 1970. She was editor of the Living in Style section -- precursor to the Home section -- from 1971 to 1982, and her stories about architecture and design led to her honorary membership in the American Institute of Architects.
From 1982 until her retirement in 1994, she was a reporter with the Style section, covering society news and other topics that caught her fancy. She began writing her weekly "Chronicles" column, in which she explored little-known byways of Washington history, in 1986. She continued the column as a freelance contributor -- invariably referring to herself as "the Chronicler" in her stories -- until 2001.
She knew that Lafayette Square was once a burial ground and the site of horse races. She knew that only one president lived in the District after his term in office -- Woodrow Wilson -- and that years after his death, a typewriter could sometimes be heard tapping at night in his empty bedroom.
Mrs. Conroy's gentle manner sometimes masked her solid reporting instincts and subtle observation skills. In 1981, while covering the remodeling of the White House, she returned to the newsroom and told editor Mary Hadar that a portrait of disgraced president Richard M. Nixon had been quietly hung in the White House with no fanfare.
"I don't recall seeing that portrait the last time I was at the White House," Mrs. Conroy said.