Anne Spalding, 86: Reporter, activist was ‘a woman ahead of her time’

Anne Gowen Spalding went straight from college into the male-dominated world of newspaper reporting.

And though it took her arguing her case to the president of Rich’s department store, she became the first woman to have a store credit card in her name, not her husband’s.

“Mama was a woman ahead of her time,” eldest son Charles Gowen Spalding said.

Anne Wakefield Gowen Spalding, 86, former Atlanta Constitution reporter, wife of the late longtime Atlanta Journal editor Jack Spalding, civic activist and mother of five, died Tuesday at her home in Atlanta after an extended illness.

A private family graveside service will be at 11 a.m. Monday at Arlington Cemetery in Sandy Springs.

Read and sign the online guestbook for Anne Spalding

Anne’s many passions included the area of Brunswick and Saint Simons Island where she spent her childhood. As an adult, she had a second, treasured family home on the island’s East Beach.

She developed a love of books in childhood, reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems by the streetlight beams in her bedroom window, her family said. She graduated from Glynn Academy in Brunswick as the Class of 1948 salutatorian. She attended Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., for two years before enrolling at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in political science, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1952.

Moving to Atlanta after college, she became a reporter with The Atlanta Constitution, covering an array of subjects including crime, and writing obituaries, son Charles said. She snared “a rather famous story,” interviewing a fugitive at Atlanta’s old Frances Hotel, he said.

In 1954 she was press secretary for her father, longtime state legislator Charles Latimer Gowen, in his unsuccessful run for governor. Jack Spalding, then a Constitution reporter, covered the Gowen campaign. “There was some talk that maybe he finagled that because he wanted to follow her around the state, which he did,” son John Phinizy Spalding said.

When candidate Gowen gave speeches on courthouse steps, Anne and her sister, Bootie, would move through the crowds with skillets, collecting dime and quarter donations, Charles said.

Jack was known for his frugality, but his boss, Jack Tarver, spotted him putting $1 into the skillet, son John said. That’s when Tarver began suspecting a romance might be blooming. Jack later insisted he had put $20 in the skillet, his sons said. He also told family he’d come away from the campaign thinking Anne “was the noblest woman he’d ever seen,” Charles said.

What emerged was a love lasting nearly 50 years. Anne married Jack in 1955. He was 42 and Anne was 24.

Anne didn’t pick up a reporter’s notebook again, but plunged into civic activities, the Atlanta social life expected of the newspaper editor’s wife and raising her children in what was then the woods of Sandy Springs.

“She was like so many women of that day. They put their promising careers aside to raise their families,” son John said.

Margie Spalding of Athens said she admired her sister-in-law Anne’s ability to run a busy household. “She was always organized, but she kept it fun. She was wonderful – a real elegant person, calm and collected yet down to earth and extremely intelligent.”

Anne passed her passion for reading to her family, organizing full family dramatic readings of the classics, notably Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. “She was a great mother,” son John said. “She was so smart, and she challenged us all to excel. And we all wanted her to be proud of us.”

In her late 40s, Anne enrolled at John Marshall Law School, but withdrew to nurse husband Jack back to health after lung cancer surgery in 1978.

Her interests included gardening, nature, opera, travel, politics and political humor, as well as friendships spanning decades with Atlanta Constitution syndicated columnist Celestine Sibley and others.

She was a lifelong Democrat and part of the “Peanut Brigade,” campaigning for future president and former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter in frigid Iowa during the winter of 1976.

She loved the beauty of coastal Georgia and fought to protect Glynn County’s seashores from development. She was a charter member of The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, a devotee of her book clubs, and an active member of The Georgia Conservancy, the Junior League of Atlanta and Atlanta History Center.

Her survivors include her sister, Mary Evelyn “Bootie” Gowen Wood; five children, Charles Gowen Spalding (Holly), Elizabeth Hughes Spalding, John Phinizy Spalding (Mildred), James Wakefield Spalding, and Mary Anne “Maysie” Latimer Spalding Beeson (Phillip); and 11 grandchildren.

Donations in her memory can be sent to: The Atlanta History Center, to support the Mary Howard Gilbert Memorial Quarry Garden, 130 West Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta, GA 30305.

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