Oldest known journalism graduate dies at 97 just after finishing book

Virginia Heide Stuart, J/MS 1936, the Department of Journalism and Media Studies’ oldest graduate, died in Vermont last July after a brief illness.

Virginia Stuart, 97, in a photo taken in 2012 in Vermont. Photo supplied by Anne Ohlrogge

She was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1914 and came to New Jersey College for Women (NJC), where she was one of six women journalism majors in her class.

Profiled several times in Alum-Knights, Stuart said her most exciting college memories were when a journalism professor took the class to cover the Flemington trial of Bruno Hauptmann for kidnaping the infant son of Charles Lindbergh.

She was editor of the NJC yearbook, known as Quair, writer for the literary magazine, Pine Cone, and theater critic for NJC’s weekly newspaper, the Campus News.

“One of the best things about editing Quair was the working weekend at old Jimmy Neilson’s mansion, which was a part of the NJC campus (today it is Wood Lawn, home to the Eagleton Institute of Politics),” said Stuart in an interview a few years ago.

“In early NJC years, passing students were often invited in for tea,” she said. “The Quair weekend was elegant. We were waited on hand and foot, had marvelous food, etc. It felt like a haute monde weekend in a British drama!”

In class, she said, professors had students write for an in-class newspaper, which gave them tremendous experience. The journalists-in-training covered not only campus events but news from New Brunswick, including crime and the courts.

“The paper wasn’t distributed,” she said. “However, if you worked for The Targum, you could use the same stories you wrote in class. We women developed stories for Campus News.”

After graduation she went to work at the Princeton University Press, where she became the first female editor and also where she met her future husband, Douglas Edmunds Stuart.

During her long career she worked for the Princeton Hospital, did public relations for the State of New Jersey, and after retirement had a successful career teaching writing.

She spent most of her life in the Princeton area but moved to Greensboro, Vermont, to join her daughters in 2005.

Born of Danish immigrant parents, Stuart was an early crusader for women’s rights and a gifted writer and editor. Her short stories appeared in Harper’s, and her first novel was published when she was 89 years old, a young adult novel about the rescue of the Danish Jews during WWII entitled Candle in a Dark Time. Her last novel, Immigrant Elf, was published as an e-book last spring.

Stuart was predeceased by her husband, her son, Douglas (Dougal) Stuart, her daughter, Alison (Taffy) Todd, her grandson, Stuart Todd, and her granddaughter, Jill Riley. She leaves behind her daughter, noted author Anne (Krissie) Ohlrogge, her grandchildren, Kathryn Ohl­- rogge and Timothy Ohlrogge of Greensboro, and Jennifer Todd Taylor of Lake Tahoe, CA.

The family has said donations may be made to the Greensboro Arts Alliance & Residency, PO Box 304, Greensboro, VT 05841.