SWANS ISLAND — Stephen J. McCormick, 97, of Swans Island, a White House news correspondent from the FDR to the Kennedy administrations died Nov. 30, 2011, in Bar Harbor.
He was born May 4, 1914, in Taunton, Mass., the son of Stephen J. and Mary Gaffney McCormick. Raised in Taunton and Cambridge, Mass., he was accepted to Harvard University, after graduating from Cambridge Latin School, but could not afford the $200 tuition, so he attended Boston University instead. Even so, he still had to work after classes in order to pay the university’s $60 tuition fee.
It was the start of the Great Depression when Mr. McCormick graduated BU and jobs were scarce. His older brother urged him to come to Washington, D.C., where he said jobs were plentiful. He did, and on whim passing the Mutual Broadcasting station there, he walked in an asked for an audition as a news broadcaster. Apparently the company like his deep voice and air of gravitas, and hired the young man on the spot. He became Mutual Broadcasting’s White House correspondent in 1935 and hosted Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famed Fireside Chats; he got to know the president during pre-show conversations over coffee and admired him greatly. The draft interrupted his career and Mr. McCormick went from cozy chats with the president of the United States, to peeling potatoes as a private for the U.S. Army. A letter addressed to him on White House stationary impressed his commanding officer enough to get him off KP duty, and eventually he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, serving in the South Pacific; he was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery. His daughter Teddi Harrison of Carlsbad, N.M., says her father, who was a great storyteller, was never able to talk about his wartime experiences and in particular the action that earned him the medal.
“My dad was not a particularly emotional man,” she says. “But the only time I saw him try to recount that story, he welled up and couldn’t go on.”
At the war’s end, Mr. McCormick met his future wife, Theo Henelt, in Hawaii, where she had been sent by the Red Cross after serving in Saipan during the war as a sort of anti-Tokyo Rose, broadcasting music and encouraging words to the troops. They were married in 1945, and returned to Washington, D.C., where the duo hosted a husband-and-wife radio show.
Mr. McCormick went on to cover the terms of four presidents and moderated two NBC news-related TV shows in the 1950s, and was featured in the Doris Day-Jack Lemmon movie “It Happened to Jane,” playing himself. He served as executive vice president of Mutual Broadcasting for many years, covering everything from the political conventions and NASA to Antarctica. Steve was a member of National Press Club, White House Correspondents Association and Army Navy Club.
About 35 years ago, when looking for a “getaway” in Maine, the McCormicks found and bought the perfect little house on Swans Island. After that the couple spent every summer there, and eventually those summers got longer and longer until seven years ago, when Mr. McCormick turned 90, they became year-rounders living independently and becoming active members of the island community. When Mr. and Mrs. McCormick began speaking at the island’s annual Memorial Day events, the attendance apparently tripled.
He was very proud to be awarded the Swans Island Boston Post Cane in 2009, and of the full head of hair he never lost.
He is survived by his beloved wife of 66 years, Theo McCormick of Swans Island; daughter Teddi Harrison and her husband Jim of Carlsbad, N.M.; son-in-law Jeff Delano of Alexandria, Va.; grandchildren Michele Brenneman and her husband Jerome of Kennesaw, Ga.; Catherine Harrison of New York City; Kassen Delano of Pittsburgh, Penn.; Stephen Delano of Alexandria, Va.; and Chris Delano of Richmond, Va.; and a great-grandchild, Kyra Brenneman of Kennesaw, Ga.
He was predeceased by his parents, brothers Tom and Jack McCormick and daughter Patricia Delano.
A memorial service is scheduled for 11a.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011, at the Swans Island Baptist Church.
Arrangements are by Jordan-Fernald, 1139 Main St., Mount Desert.
Condolences may be expressed at www.jordanfernald.com.
Mr. McCormick was a great lover of books, who never entered the computer age. Friends who wish can donate in his memory to the Swans Island Library at P.O. Box 12, Swans Island. ME 04685. Condolences may be expressed at www.jordanfernald.com.