Maxine Cheshire: a reporter’s instinct and a little luck

Maxine Cheshire was a reporter who knew how to get under people’s skin.

She irritated Frank Sinatra into a drunken, expletive-ridden rant that was witnessed by dozens of people. She made Jacqueline Kennedy cry and provoked a presidential call to her publisher. She exposed the Nixon family’s greed in keeping gifts from foreign leaders.

More than once Henry Kissinger was on the phone to editors of the Washington Post complaining about her.

Even Aristotle Onasis with all of his wealth and influence couldn’t keep her from writing a detailed account of his wedding to Jacqueline Kennedy — even though she had been barred from the island where it happened.

When Maxine Cheshire wanted to find out something — especially if it was scandalous and was about someone high and mighty — there wasn’t much of a way to stop her.

The Kennedy-Onassis wedding was a case in point. The Washington Post sent Cheshire to Greece in 1968 when the world heard that the widowed first lady was to marry a Greek shipping magnate. But reporters had been barred from the island where the wedding was to take place. Cheshire jumped onto a whaler hoping that it would get her onto the island, but all she got for her efforts was a broken foot.

In addition to tenacity, Cheshire had another essential quality for a good reporter – good luck. She went to a doctor in Athens to have her foot treated, and while there she spotted a desk in the doctor’s office that was an antique, something at which she was an expert. She asked about the desk, and the doctor told her that he had acquired it from an antique dealer not far away.

When she visited the dealer’s shop, she found that the owner was a close friend of Onassis, that he had attended the wedding, and that he would quite happily describe it in detail to her. Cheshire once again ended up getting the story that everyone else was after.

There are dozens of stories like that about Maxine Cheshire. She began life in 1930 in Harlan, Kentucky, a tough mining town where her father was a lawyer. She cut her reporter’s teeth in Harlan and later in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she exhibited the same tenacity that would mark her nearly 30 years at the Washington Post. She ended up writing a nationally syndicated column about the people and the goings-on in the nation’s capital. It was a must-read for anyone who wanted to stay in the know in the 1960s and 1970s.

Cheshire retired from the Post in 1982 have moved to Texas. She died on December 31, 2020, at the age of 90. She was once described as “a reporter with the guts of a cat burglar.”

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About Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall, (JPROF.com) a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self-publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker, and beekeeper -- among other things. Subscribe to his weekly newsletter at http://www.jprof.com .
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