A death in the family: Remembering Peggy Carroll, a journalist to the end

'SHE REMEMBERED EVERYTHING.' Peggy Carroll, chronicler of all things Morristown, died on May 17, 2018. This photo was from early in her career.
'SHE REMEMBERED EVERYTHING.' Peggy Carroll, chronicler of all things Morristown, died on May 17, 2018. This photo was from early in her career.
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How passionate was Peggy Carroll about journalism?

She wrote her own obituary.

“The thing that made her proudest was to be a good reporter,” state Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll said of his mom.

Peggy Carroll died at her Morris Township home on Friday morning, of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She was 81.

She was a news reporter and columnist at The Daily Record in an era when most women were relegated to the society pages. A long career in public relations followed. I came to know her when she was a spokesperson for St. Clares Hospital.

For early career highlights, you can read her obituary, below.

It’s her later career I know best. Peggy Carroll was proud to be a journalist. I was proud, and humbled, that she chose to share some of her last writings with readers of Morristown Green.

“Peggy was an old-school community journalist,” said David Hinckley, a former Daily Record co-worker.

“She understood the importance of world and national news, but placed no less value on keeping readers informed about what was happening in their town or on their block.”

Did she ever!

Peggy’s first byline on Morristown Green, on June 21, 2011, was a short article announcing a new chairperson for the Morris County Human Relations Commission. Her last, on Jan. 9, 2017, was a sparkling piece about the 25th anniversary of Art in the Atrium.

In between, she filed stories about politics, personalities, current events — and anything else a seasoned pro with failing mobility could cover by telephone.

She wrote crisp profiles of talent show contestants, obituaries of civic stalwarts forgotten by the shrinking mainstream media, and great bet-you-didn’t-know local features about women pioneers, the birth of electronic communications, and the true origins of the Jersey Tomato.

Peggy was a magician with press releases. She could pull a lonesome tidbit from a stodgy statement and transform it into an entertaining, informative story faster than you can say presto!

And Peggy could reach beyond headlines for deeper angles.

Photo caption: Peggy Carroll of Morris Township presents “The Patrick” to Don Tironi of Rockaway as his bowling coach, Elaine Hobby of Wharton, and his mother, Leah, look on. Photo by Robyn Craig Genualdi
Peggy Carroll of Morris Township presents “The Patrick” award, named for her late son, in 2011 to Don Tironi of Rockaway, as Tironi’s bowling coach, Elaine Hobby of Wharton, and his mother, Leah, look on. Photo by Robyn Craig Genualdi

When the plight of Morristown’s movie Ticket-Taker Guy was big news, she banged out a thoughtful story about the psychology, and occasional abuses, of crowd-funding.

As the incendiary 2016 presidential campaign unfolded, Peggy reminded readers that the Republic has survived worse: Tapping resources of the Morristown & Township Library and the Macculloch Hall Historical Museum, she re-introduced us to Thomas Nast and Mugwumps and Tilden and Hayes.

When Broadway’s Hamilton spiked interest in one of Morristown’s most storied visitors, Peggy made a case for Alexander Hamilton’s wife Betsey as the real star.  Before the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey production of Richard III, she suggested the hunchbacked monster got a bad rap.

Peggy knew how to hook a reader. Here’s how she began a story about a Morristown family dogged by tragedy:

Christa Lassiter Lee was a very pretty, lively girl who in her teens was determined to dance on television and to become a star.

She was an identical twin, a member of a well-known Morristown family. But it was a family history tinged with tragedy. Her father and her twin, Leila, were killed in car crashes, her father when she was growing up, her sister, Leila, when she was 35.

This week, family friends and her classmates from the class of 1975 at Morristown High School reacted with shock to another tragedy.

Christa herself had been murdered at home in Cary, NC. The murderer was her own son.

 

‘SHE REMEMBERED EVERYTHING’

Peggy could work the phone, a lost art in the age of Wikipedia.

Whenever I called her, I knew other tasks would have to wait. She was a natural storyteller, a gift she shared generously.  I don’t regret those hours. I regret not recording them.

“She remembered everything!” said Fran Wood, another former newspaper colleague. Peggy was the newsroom’s go-to person for local lore.

The author, second from left, with classmates from what was then called Saint Elizabeth's College. Photo courtesy of Peggy Carroll.
The author, second from left, with classmates from what was then called Saint Elizabeth’s College. Photo courtesy of Peggy Carroll.

For Morristown Green, she wrote a seminal history of our namesake, the Morristown Green, and chronicled the late, great Morristown Lyceum.

Peggy’s standards were high, “and she met those standards with every story she wrote,” said Wood.

Nor was Peggy bashful when she felt others had compromised their standards. A lifelong Democrat, Peggy was no fan of Donald Trump. But in our conversations, she vehemently argued that major media outlets were damaging their credibility by the tone of their presidential coverage.

“She wasn’t happy unless she was miserable,” her son, the family’s sole Republican, said with the hint of a chuckle, suggesting her Irish ancestry may have had something to do with that.

“She could be crabby, cantankerous. She did not suffer fools gladly. She spoke her mind freely,” Michael Patrick Carroll said.

RIDING WITH A GREEK GOD

Ah, but her writings were punctuated with wry humor.

Reflecting on her student days at the College of Saint Elizabeth, she recounted having to march in New York’s frosty St. Patrick’s Day Parade. She and her pals bundled caps and gowns over their winter coats.

We looked, I believe, like a contingent from another Catholic college: The backfield of Notre Dame.

In another post, Peggy remembered an automobile mishap on a snowy Easter, early in her marriage, when she accidentally broke her husband’s finger.  Her husband was a reporter.

Now you have to know that his typing is very old-fashioned. He uses his two index fingers. And I was told by one of his co-workers that every time he hit a key on the teletype he was using, he also hit that broken middle finger.

That’s why the co-worker heard my name repeatedly.

During her newspaper days, Peggy often wrote about her kids.  Her daughters, Beth and Eileen Carroll, treasure a column about their childhood in a Jewish neighborhood in Morris Township.

A 1981 newspaper column by Peggy Carroll
A 1981 newspaper column by Peggy Carroll

“It was kind of like being a minor celebrity,” Beth Carroll said. During Show and Tell, classmates would ask, “Did the cat really sit on your homework so you couldn’t do it?”

Of course, celebrity can be a burden… like the time Peggy reported Beth’s complaint about a high school English teacher.

“We were going to do MacBeth. He said, ‘This is going to be boring, but we have to do it.’ She wrote about it, and the teacher kept me after class to yell at me,” Beth related.

If the girls had been given equal time, Eileen might have written about vacationing in Greece with her mom, who loved Greek mythology.

“She always looked pretty young for her age. People kept assuming we were sisters,” Eileen said. “We met two guys in a nightclub near the Acropolis. She went riding on a motorcycle with a 24-year-old guy!”

NO LAMENTATIONS

By then, Peggy was divorced from Mickey Carroll, a prominent journalist in New York.

Her illness would reunite them, 40 years later. Mickey, by this time a widower from his second marriage, came back to help Peggy care for their other son, Patrick.

Patrick sustained brain damage during treatment of a childhood tumor. He died in 2010 at the age of 43.

Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, center, with his parents, Mickey and Peggy Carroll, at Bicentennial celebration on the Morristown Green, Oct. 16, 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, center, with his parents, Mickey and Peggy Carroll, at Bicentennial celebration on the Morristown Green, Oct. 16, 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Mickey, the voice of the Quinnipiac Poll, stayed. And then he grew ill. He died last year, at 86, in the family homestead where Peggy passed away. Theirs was a unique relationship.

“His presence gave her something to complain about,” Michael Patrick Carroll deadpanned.

When the end drew near, there were no lamentations from Peggy. She spoke matter-of-factly about her hospice care. The day before she died, Peggy told Fran Wood she was thrilled that her first great-grandchild was due soon.

As she once wrote on Morristown Green:

…we were not, as my snippy aunt Florence once explained, “professional Irish.”

Our “Irish” songs were the ones they sang at bars in America. Nobody sang sad songs about carrying Paddy home on his shield.

So here’s to you, Peggy Carroll. And congratulations to the Pearly Gazette. You’ve just gotten one helluva reporter.

Peggy Carroll’s family will gather at The Dublin Pub on Sunday, May 27, 2018, commencing at 11 AM, to remember Peggy and celebrate her life. They invite friends and admirers to join them to share a memory and light refreshments. 

MORRISTOWN GREEN STORIES BY PEGGY CARROLL

PEGGY CARROLL’S LAST STORY:

MORRIS TWP. – Margaret Wade Carroll, known as Peggy, a journalist and public relations consultant, died May 18, 2018, at her home in Morris Township. She was 81.

Ms. Carroll, daughter of the late Lawrence F. and Thelma E. Wade, was born in Pottsville, Pa. and raised in nearby St. Clair. The family moved to New Jersey in 1942 and lived first in Garfield and later in Clifton.

She began her career in journalism when she was still in high school, originating and writing a popular column for teenagers in the Passaic-Clifton Herald News. She later worked as a reporter on the newspaper’s society pages, the only section open to women journalists.

“Of course,” she would say later, “because there were so few women, we were the best writers on the newspaper.”

But the work of writing weddings, engagements and social items was routine and boring and when she left the paper, she vowed she would never again write a wedding story. She never did.

It was while she was at the Herald News that she met and married another reporter, Maurice Carroll. They were divorced in 1976.

The Carrolls moved to Morris Township in 1960 and in 1962, Ms. Carroll joined the staff of the Daily Record, then owned by the Tomlinson family.

She was first a general assignment reporter, covering everything from school boards to the 1964 Democratic convention in Atlantic City. Later, she was the education writer and then the health care reporter.

She also was a columnist. She and fellow reporter and friend, the late Marjorie Kaschewski Schoenberger, began the Woman’s Angle, light-hearted pieces on working, living and raising a family in Morris County.

The columns centered on her four children, who were not always happy when their classmates brought the stories to school for current events. 

In 1977, Ms. Carroll completed work for a bachelor’s degree at the College of St. Elizabeth, which she had left at the time of her marriage. 

In 1982, she launched a new career in health care public relations and served as director of public relations for both Morristown Memorial Hospital and St. Clare’s Health System. After her retirement in 2002, she established her own public relations consultancy, specializing in not-for-profit agencies.

During her career, she was honored for her work both in her field and outside. In 1968, she was named recipient of the distinguished service to education award from the Morris County Council of Education Associations, the first journalist so recognized.

She also received awards from the New Jersey Press Association for a Woman’s Angle column and for a series of stories on the future of Morristown, then stalled in its efforts to build Headquarters Plaza.

In health care, her writing and the publications she edited were recognized by the New Jersey Hospital Association and the New Jersey Public Relations Society. Her story on women in dentistry won a national award from the American Dental Association.

Ms. Carroll was also a community volunteer. She was a founding member and first secretary of the Morris County Fair Housing Council, served on the board of the Morris County ARC and the Morristown Area Heart Association and was a member and past secretary of the Morris County Human Relations Commission.

She also volunteered as a public relations consultant at the Morristown and Morris Township Library and Macculloch Hall Historical Museum in Morristown.

Surviving are her son, Michael Patrick of Morris Township; her daughters, Elizabeth (Beth) of Morris Township and Eileen of New York City, and 10 grandchildren.

She was predeceased by her son, Patrick Lawrence.

In lieu of flowers, those who wish may make a contribution to the Patrick Lawrence Carroll Memorial Fund at the ARC of Morris, Box 123, Morris Plains, NJ. The funds are used to support “The Patrick,” a trophy for special needs bowlers, and for the bowling events sponsored by the ARC. 

From the family:

The family will gather at The Dublin Pub on Sunday, May 27, 2018, commencing at 11 AM, to remember Peggy and celebrate her life. They invite friends and admirers to join them to share a memory and light refreshments. 

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8 COMMENTS

  1. Peggy did not mince words and I admired her greatly for that during the time we worked together with the Morris County Human Relations Commission. A forward looking, modern woman exemplifying a life well lived with all the accolades, hardships, complexity and inner goodness that involves. She will be missed.

  2. I admired Peggy for her firm commitment to clarity and honesty in her writing and in all her involvements in and outside of Morristown. I had the privilege of working with her, first, on the building fund for the Morristown-Morris Township Library and was she a terrific asset. And, then, we served on the Human Relations Council together so I was able to stay in contact with her. After that, it was friendship and camaraderie. Feisty, honest, good-humored, and committed to quality and character in all that she did. She was a jewel.

  3. Condolences to you Beth. I read your Mother’s articles many times. Just curious where the neighborhood is where you grew up which she described ?

  4. That is very kind, Beth. Your mom was a special lady. My condolences to you and your family.

  5. Thanks, Kevin. My mom really enjoyed writing for Morristown Green. It was such a treat for her to be able to continue in a career she loved despite her limited mobility. The opportunity you gave her enlivened her last couple of years and for that we are all very grateful.

  6. Each time I saw the Peggy Carroll byline, I always read whatever she wrote. It was always worthwhile and informative, as well as entertaining. Just a wonderful writer and reporter.

    This is what I want to say, which is why I edited my first comments.

  7. What a lovely tribute to a very talented woman, whom I regret I never had the opportunity to meet. I enjoyed her column in the DR because she her stories were always interesting. Then later it was a pleasure reading about local history and other stories that she wrote for MG. Your journalistic talents brought life to her for me.

  8. Kevin, what a beautifully written tribute you wrote. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to get to know such a special woman just a little bit more. My condolences to Peggy’s family.

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