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This article has been published by two senior citizens' webzines, Vintage Journal (U.S.) and Canadian Senior Years

WORLD'S OLDEST REPORTER IS 96!

This month we salute Dina Sundby, who, at 96, is probably the world's oldest reporter. Hard on her heels are famous international radio commentator Alistair Cooke, who'll be 94 in November, and the Pentagon's fabled journo, Raymond Cromley, who's 91.

Earlier this year, Portuguese centenarian Fernando Pessa was hailed as the world's oldest journalist.  He joined Portugal's state radio in 1934, covered World War II for BBC radio, and launched Portugal's radio and TV national service. When he died in a Lisbon hospital in April, a few days after his 100th birthday, his country's House of Representatives carried a motion of regret at the passing of "the world-wide dean of journalists," whose force and enthusiasm were "an example for the professionals of social communication."

We first read about Dina Sunby on a Dutch website, which displayed a shadowy picture that at first glance reminded us of Whistler's Mother. Then we found another reference describing Dina as North Dakota's oldest reporter. A few email inquiries revealed that her reports appear in the weekly newspaper Hillsboro Banner.

We asked news editor Michelle McLean to tell us about her oldest reporter. She replied: "Dina Sundby lives on her family's rural farmstead near Hillsboro. She has been a local correspondent for the Hillsboro Banner for 68 years.

"She gathers local news and handwrites her weekly column on a yellow legal pad. The subject matter includes who visits who, who travels to where, who's born, who's died, who's moved - just the everyday happenings in her neighborhood.

"She calls her neighbors regularly on her dial telephone to develop her news. She faithfully provides the Bloomfield Township news each week to our offices. She's a delightfully alive and vibrant woman. She has never married and maintains a vast network of friends that spans at least four generations."

Our second nonagenarian journalist, Alistair Cooke, writes for a wider audience. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) claims that his weekly Letter From America, which it has  broadcast since 1946, is the world's longest running speech radio program. His commentaries on American culture and politics, spiced with witty remarks and personal reminiscences, delight listeners around the world.

Addressing the Royal Television Society in New York in 1997, he said "a wise old talks producer came to me and said, 'Cooke, a word in your ear. Could I give you a bit of advice?' I said, 'of course.' He said, 'don't get too popular . . . or they'll drop you.' Well, I've been working on that for 51 years!"

Third on our list is Raymond Cromley, who regularly attends Pentagon press briefings. Wall Street Journal  staff reporter Greg Jaffe recently wrote this about him: "More than 500 reporters cover the Pentagon. One is Raymond Cromley, sole representative of Cromley News Service.

"Mr. Cromley, 91 years old, has a cubicle in the Pentagon press room outfitted with an old Royal typewriter without a ribbon, a 1971 World Almanac and 17 toothbrushes in a plastic cup. At Pentagon press briefings, he scribbles notes on 3-by-5 index cards that fit neatly into his shirt pocket....

"Mr. Cromley hasn't written a story in years. 'He's been here longer than I have,' says Glenn Flood, a Pentagon public information officer since 1978. 'Though I can't say I have ever really worked with him on a story. I am not sure any of us have.'"

You can read the rest of Jaffe's article on the Wall Street Journal online 
The BBC has an interesting (1998) page about Alistair Cooke, Ninety Years Young. See his photo and read one of his speeches.
See Fernando Pessa's picture.
And if you'd like to read one of Dina Sundby's stories, you could try the Hillsboro Banner.

NIMBLE NONAGENARIANS

Nonagenarians, that is, the people in their nineties, are adaptive, creative, and rather self sufficient. They survive even the survivors. Professor Dunbar of Columbia University studied people in their nineties. He called them "nimble nonagenarians." Dunbar found that nimble nonagenarians don't accept what they hear from others about old age. They are well insulated from negative emotions, such as depression, anxiety, and conflict. They have a strong survival instinct along with a terrific sense of humor.
-- Characteristics of People Who Live Beyond 90, Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

POSTSCRIPT. On August 20, Elwood P Smith, 83, Philadelphia News' veteran photojournalist, celebrated 65 years of shooting the city. Deborah Bolling has written a great story about him, in the Philadelphia City Paper.  

Copyright 2002

Eric Shackle

Story first posted September 2002

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