The passing early this year of Sarah Booth Conroy, UT’s first woman journalism graduate (Knoxville ’50), called to mind her colorful newspaper career.
Conroy, who logged more than 30 years at the Washington Post, covered presidents and monarchs, braved angry labor union mobs, and survived Hurricane Hattie in Belize.
She cut her journalist teeth in Knoxville. In a 1997 interview, she told Tennessee Alumnus about an assignment early in her career at the Knoxville News Sentinel. She was assigned to interview Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, who was visiting East Tennessee. Tight security kept reporters at bay, but Conroy seized a feminine opportunity.
“I saw her heading down a hallway alone. The male guards couldn’t go into the ladies’ room, but I could. I interviewed her while she was washing her hands.”
In his blog, Matt Schudel of the Post recalled Conroy as both colorful and competent.
“I think Sarah Booth’s politeness and charm sometimes overshadowed her accomplishments and doggedness as a reporter. She was the first woman to graduate from the school of journalism at the University of Tennessee. At the old Washington Daily News, she covered the D.C. government while doubling as an uncredited stringer of news about women in the White House for the New York Times.”
Schudel also recalled the Georgia native’s unrepentant Southern-ness.
“Sarah Booth was a professional Southerner. When I wrote in the obituary that her Southern accent seemed to grow thicker every year, I wasn’t exaggerating. She could identify any Southern accent by state and, in many cases, by county and she always pretended to hold a grudge toward the federal government for seizing the estate of Robert E. Lee across the Potomac and turning it into the burial ground we know as Arlington National Cemetery.”
Late in her tenure at the Post, Conroy wrote a weekly column peppered with history and tidbits gleaned from her Washington rounds. In the ’97 Tennessee Alumnus interview, she confided a social/reportorial tip:
“This week, I’ve been to four parties. I have two rules about Washington parties. Anything that happens in a hotel isn’t worth going to. And if they don’t have valet parking, don’t bother.”
See also: Conroy’s Washington Post obituary