Peg Churchill Wright, who capably handled the duties of reporter, reviewer, columnist and editor in her 41 years at The Daily Gazette, passed away last Wednesday, Oct. 17, near her home in Vero Beach, Florida. She was 82.
A Scotia native and a 1953 graduate of Scotia-Glenville High School, Churchill Wright finished her college education at Syracuse University before joining The Gazette staff in 1957 as its Rotterdam reporter. In 1967 she continued to cover Rotterdam for the newspaper and also began reviewing restaurants as well as writing her weekly visual arts column, "Brushmarks." She retired in 1999 after 13 years as The Gazette's arts editor.
"Peg was very dedicated, and firm but fair," said Gail Shufelt, who began working in the newsroom at The Gazette with Churchill Wright in 1962. "Not too long after she became arts editor, she was having a conversation with one of the writers and it was about to turn into an argument. She stopped it just by saying, 'this is not a democracy.' She was firm, but everyone respected her because of that."
Shufelt, who became state editor and assistant city editor at the Gazette, said she and Churchill Wright were the only two women in The Gazette newsroom throughout much of the 1960s.
"Peg actually applied for a job in advertising but they didn't have anything," remembered Shufelt. "But they did have an opening in editorial. She got that job and eventually got the job as arts editor. She took that department out of the 1930s and moved it up into the 1990s for the Sunday paper. She was a top notch reporter, and she was also the perfect person for the editor's job. I learned more from her about Schenectady County and the newspaper business than I did in four years of college and all the other editors I worked with."
John E.N. Hume III, the former editor and publisher of The Gazette, started working in the family-owned business in the mid-1960s and remembers Churchill Wright coming up with the idea of doing restaurant reviews.
"She was the Rotterdam reporter and knew everybody you needed to know, but I also remember her asking to be allowed to do restaurant reviews," said Hume. "In my memory I can't think of anyone else we had doing that. But Peg's reviews became immensely popular. She was always honest and told the truth. She told me once that if I was ever to do a restaurant review, or if I was just going out for dinner, I should always eat the vegetables first because you can't really critique them if they're cold. I'll probably mostly remember her as a reviewer. I'll never forget her telling me, 'eat the vegetables first.' "
"Peg was a real trailblazer for women in our profession," said Judy Patrick, former editor of The Gazette and also a reporter and city editor. "She was someone with the utmost integrity, and she cared about accuracy, truth and serving our readers. I learned an awful lot from her."
Like Shufelt, Hume said he learned a lot from Churchill Wright.
"As for helping me learn the basics of news coverage and writing and editing, she and Gail both helped me immeasurably," said Hume. "She was just a real hard-nosed reporter and I never remember us having to retract any of her reporting. She was always thorough and accurate."
Before former Gazette arts writer and ski columnist Bill Rice began working for The Gazette in the 1980s, he also wrote some articles for the Scotia-Glenville High newspaper when Churchill Wright was its editor. Rice was also a 1953 Scotia-Glenville graduate.
"I was working at the Troy Record doing musical reviews and she called me up to see if I would be interested in doing that for The Gazette," said Rice, who stopped writing his ski column for The Gazette five years ago. "She was very direct and very honest. If she had criticism, she'd give it to you, and for me she was very helpful. But she did call a spade a spade, and if she didn't like what you wrote she told you and explained why she didn't like it and why it had to be changed."
For current Gazette music writer/reviewer Geraldine Freedman, getting positive feedback about a story from Churchill Wright was sometimes the best part of the job.
"Peg went over everything I wrote with an eagle eye," said Freedman. "She was always tough but fair. If Peg liked what I did, it was like hitting a home run. It's sad she's gone."
Churchill Wright also owned a business, a restaurant/tavern called The Living Room, with her husband, William Wright, from 1974-1985. The couple relocated to Vero Beach in 2003.
"We both got bored down here so we ended up finding jobs," said Wright, who said his wife worked as a security guard for a time. "But she always looked for newspapers. She'd read about restaurants or new art exhibits. She spent her entire newspaper career doing that, so it was in her blood. "
Wright, 88, said his wife had been in failing health for two years and had been living in a nursing home in the Vero Beach area. Her remains will eventually be buried alongside her husband's at the Gerald B. Solomon National Cemetery in the town of Stillwater.