While listening to 89-year-old Vivian Castleberry speak in her charming, and captivating style, it is easy to romanticize her journey. But the truth is, by today’s standards what Castleberry did isn’t all that romantic. She chose a vocation. She worked for and paid for an education. She married the love of her life. She secured work in the profession of her choice outside of her home. She gave birth and reared five daughters. Today, one generation removed, because of her determination to pursue her vision and light the way for other women to follow, a woman’s basic right to choose the life she wants to lead, is now a norm, rather than an exception to the rule.
“I saw a need, and thought I was the one to answer it,” said pioneer journalist and humanitarian, Vivian Castleberry during a recent visit to McKinney on behalf of Leadership McKinney, “I wasn’t always right,” she laughs, “but I answered anyway.”
Castleberry, hired as the first female editor at the Dallas Times Herald in 1956, candidly shared stories of her early childhood, her time at SMU during World War II, and of a career that had her front row and center to some of the most tumultuous events and social rumblings in our country’s history. She is credited with moving the women’s pages from what the late Molly Ivan’s described as “fluff and drivel” to stories tackling the tougher issues and injustices faced by women, such as, domestic violence, exploitation, and issues of basic civil rights.
“Many times, I almost lost my job,” said Castleberry of the backlash from male management associated with pushing what was considered journalistic boundaries for women at the time, “I inherited Food, Fashion and Society with a capital ‘S’. I started changing the name and the direction. I couldn’t push too far, but I’d shake things up a bit. I gently moved [the women’s pages] to features, and the community was supportive.”
Castleberry noted that in the span of her career, she interviewed seven First Ladies.
“Jacqueline Kennedy was not one of them.”
At the time of the Kennedy’s 1963 visit to Texas, Castleberry was to accompany Mrs. Kennedy to Lyndon B. Johnson’s ranch on the weekend following their visit to Dallas.
“And as we all know, that visit to the ranch did not happen.”
On the day of Kennedy’s assassination, Castleberry was at the Dallas Trade Mart. She shared that she tarried at the Trade Mart, spending time in the temporary office that had been prepared for The President to use while in Dallas. She described how the empty room resembled his office in Washington, D.C., down to a red phone, and unclaimed wrapped gifts for Caroline and John-John sitting on the desk. Castleberry’s notes of the day are now housed at Dallas’ Sixth Floor Museum.
Castleberry, boasts a lists of firsts, awards and achievements as long and as distinguished as her career. Castleberry served as the Dallas Times Herald women’s editor from 1956 till her retirement in 1984, and was the first female named to the newspaper’s editorial board. Among her honors are three Katie awards (Press Club of Dallas), and two United Press International awards. She is a founder of the Women’s Center in Dallas, as well as the Family Place, Dallas’ first women’s shelter, and was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame in 1984. She is the author of four books, Daughters of Dallas, The Texas Tornado, Sarah The Bridge Builder, and Seeds of Success.
Post-retirement, Castleberry served as a citizen diplomat to Russia, then known as the Soviet Union. After this experience, Castleberry founded the nonprofit organization, Peacemakers Incorporated in order to sponsor international women’s conferences on peace. Established in 1987, the most recent conference was held in 2007, and was attended by over 1300 participants, with 45 nations represented. In 2010, the University of North Texas Peace Studies Program, established the Castleberry Peace Institute at UNT in her honor.
In 2012, Peacemakers Incorporated will celebrate their 25th anniversary, as Vivian Castleberry celebrates her 90th birthday.
The Dialogue with Vivian Castleberry was hosted by Leadership McKinney and facilitated by Carolyn Corbin. The event was held at the Collin College Higher Education Center on October 6, 2011, and was sponsored by University of North Texas, University of Texas at Dallas, Texas A&M Commerce, Collin College, and Texas Woman’s University. Leadership McKinney is a McKinney Chamber of Commerce Program. For more information regarding Leadership McKinney, contact Deb Fitzgerald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972-542-0163.
Michele Stevens Bernard, Staff Writer, TownSquareBuzz.com
Video below as found on YouTube.com and posted by VetFem/Veteran Feminists of America 2010