published Sunday, May 10th, 2009

Kennedy: Marion Peck’s story inspires on Mother’s Day

Charlie Steinhice is on his way to Germany. Mr. Steinhice is a research scientist at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. He is off to Berlin to represent his family at an Allied Museum exhibit honoring his maternal grandmother, Marion Peck.

Mrs. Peck’s story resonates on Mother’s Day.

As a boy, Mr. Steinhice remembers his newspaper-reporter grandmother, Mrs. Peck, as a larger-thanlife figure whose journalist buddies used to lift a glass or two at her Hixson home. Once, in a burst of exuberance, the reporters destroyed little Charlie’s seesaw.

Before World War II, Mrs. Peck was a reporter for The Chattanooga Times. She was assigned to cover prewar military maneuvers in Louisiana and slipped through the Army’s gender net because her first name could have been a man’s.

“When this little woman showed up, no less a person than Gen. (George S.) Patton is said to have said, ‘We can’t have this,’ ” Mr. Steinhice said.

With a little help from people in high places, though, Mrs. Peck held her ground. Her colorful reports on the war games were so well done that she eventually earned a job with The Associated Press, becoming the wire service’s first female editor. Later she worked in London for the U.S. Office of War Information. After the war, she was a U.S. State Department information official in Berlin during the blockade and airlift.

In the 1950s, she came back to work for The Chattanooga Times and later settled into a state government career, writing speeches for four Tennessee governors.

I fished out Mrs. Peck’s clip file in the newspaper morgue last week and found newspaper artifacts of her colorful life as a journalist and public servant.

She appeared on the “To Tell the Truth” television show in 1961. A celebrity guest on the panel that day was Johnny Carson. Mrs. Peck’s “secret” was that she was both a newspaper reporter and owner of the Hixson Pike Fire Department.

“She was sweet,” Mr. Steinhice remembers. “She doted on us kids. She would have us over to her house in the afternoons for high tea.”

Marion Coleman Peck died in 1992, but her family recently sent many of her belongings, including many artifacts from her Berlin days, to German curators. Her things — clothes, pamphlets, trinkets, souvenirs and documents — have been gathered into an exhibit called “The Marion Coleman (Peck) Exhibit: An American Woman in Berlin.”

During the blockade of Berlin, Mr. Steinhice’s mother, Laurel Coleman Steinhice, was airlifted into Berlin to be with her mother. There for seven years, she made friends with German children and soaked in European culture.

“Last August I went to Berlin with my mother,” Mr. Steinhice recalls. “It was the first time she’d been back since graduating from high school. We found three or four houses she lived in. We found her old elementary school.

“My mom seemed more at home in Berlin than I have ever seen her.”

Mr. Steinhice, who has two teenage daughters, thinks it is important to know about the influence that post-war Germany had on their grandmother and great-grandmother.

Before shipping some of Mrs. Peck’s old government uniforms to Berlin, Mrs. Steinhice said his daughters posed for pictures in the garments.

“They clearly identify with her,” he said.

Teaching his daughters about their courageous great-grandmother and the international sensibilities of their grandmother is a Mother’s Day gift that will surely endure.

E-mail Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...

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