Joy Billington Doty, a British-born journalist who worked at the Washington Star from 1967 until the paper folded in 1981 and covered first ladies, society news, Embassy Row functions and visiting dignitaries, died Aug. 11 at her home in Washington. She was 91.
During her six decades as a writer, starting as a stringer for a Singapore newspaper, Ms. Doty interviewed five American presidents and their wives, the kings of Jordan and Thailand, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and child film star-turned-diplomat Shirley Temple Black.
“I like interviewing people. I like to do scenes that describe an evening at the White House and make people feel as if they were there,” she said in a 2005 interview for this obituary. She also liked prompting world leaders to expose a bit of their humanity.
“Indira Gandhi confessed to me, ‘It’s not easy riding a tiger,’ ” Ms. Doty said of the former Indian prime minister. “I felt a lot of sympathy for the difficulty she had” with male world leaders.
The oldest of three children, she was born Joy Manson in Liverpool, England, on March 20, 1931, to a merchant seaman and a nurse. She was 9 when she was supposed to sail to Canada as part of a plan to evacuate British children during World War II. She had an outbreak of hives and missed boarding the SS City of Benares, which was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat in 1940. Seventy of the 90 children aboard died.
Eventually, her mother spirited her and her two siblings to Scotland for the duration of the war. At 18, she was so upset that her father was moving the family to Perth, Australia — when she wanted to attend art school — that she threatened unsuccessfully to marry a Royal Marine.
In Australia, she found herself restless and lost. “My parents put me in a hospital and said, ‘Be a nurse,’ ” she later told the Fort Lauderdale News. Her constant battle of wills with the head nurse led to her leaving.
On a ship to Singapore, she met a female reporter who suggested she earn money as a stringer for the Singapore Standard. “At the tender age of 21,” she told the News, “I became a lovelorn columnist … ‘Dear Georgeanne.’ ” She also married an import-export executive, Reginald Billington, and had a son.
They subsequently lived in British North Borneo (now the Malaysian state of Sabah) and in Thailand, where she did press work for the U.S. Information Agency and freelanced. She divorced and moved back to England in 1964, writing for suburban papers and eventually as a freelancer for the women’s pages of the Times of London.
Ms. Doty first came to the United States in 1967 to report stories for the Times and the London Daily Telegraph on notable American women in business and politics. Captivated by her access to first lady Lady Bird Johnson on a trip to Appalachia, she decided to stay and soon joined the Star as a society reporter.
Around that time, she met the Rev. Joseph Doty, a Jesuit priest and the headmaster of Georgetown Preparatory School in Bethesda, Md. After they married in 1969, Rev. Doty was automatically excommunicated from the Catholic Church. He became an Episcopal priest.
“I love the Catholic Church and I always will, but I felt I needed more freedom to think out religious positions than I could have in the Roman Church,” he said at the time. (He later became chaplain of the National Cathedral School for Girls in Washington and headmaster of St. Stephen’s School in Alexandria, Va.)
After the Star closed, Ms. Doty wrote about the Reagan White House for the San Diego Union before moving to Scotland in 1985 for her husband’s next church assignment. He died in 2003. In addition to her son, Nigel, of Nérac, France, survivors include a sister.