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Remembering Connie by Margie Elsberg

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Editor’s Note. A special friend of Chestertown (and the Chestertown  Spy) passed away last week at the age of 90. Connie Godwin died peacefully early Tuesday morning in the town she loved. Margie Elsberg, her close friend, collaborator, and neighbor, was kind enough to share these thoughts with our readers and our community

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Connie Godwin

In the late 1970s, Connie and Stu Godwin were living in Anchorage, Alaska, looking forward to Stu’s retirement from the FBI. They decided that they wanted to move back east, even though they had enjoyed their decade in Anchorage, so they spent a few days driving through small town Pennsylvania, looking for a place they liked.

Frustrated that nothing seemed to fit, they turned south toward the DC suburbs to return their borrowed car, and that’s when Stu spotted a sign for Chestertown.

As a small child, he’d seen a performance on a show boat in Chestertown, the same show boat, Stu says, that inspired Edna Ferber’s book “Show Boat” and the hit Broadway musical.

“I decided I wanted to see the town again,” Stu said, breaking into a broad smile as he remembered the day. “So we swung into town and it had everything we were looking for: hospital, college, water, pleasant atmosphere.”

And that’s how Connie and Stu Godwin chose Chestertown, a town they loved and that loved them back. They built a house at the end of Birch Run Road by phone and mail while still living in Anchorage, then moved in 1980.

After 36 years of friendships and community involvement, Connie Godwin died peacefully on Tuesday morning at Shore Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, a few blocks from her home. She was 90 years old.

A native Washingtonian and the daughter of a Hearst newspaper editor, Connie was a newspaperwoman and a news junky all her life. As a student newspaper reporter at the College of William and Mary, she helped break a story of that was picked up by the Associated Press about college quotas for minorities. Later, back in DC, she was a newsroom go-fer, a copy boy, at Phil Graham’s Washington Post—a job she was proud of for the rest of her life.

FBI assignments took Stu and Connie to Knoxville and Miami, years when Connie was busy with her young family, but when they moved to Anchorage, Connie returned to newspapering. She thrived as an editor at the Anchorage Times, a paper that she bragged was “the largest newspaper in the largest city in the largest state.” And when she and Stu moved to Chestertown—their three kids were mostly out of the nest by then—Connie moved to the Kent County News, working for Editor Hurtt Derringer.

It wasn’t long, however, before the phone rang, and she got an offer she couldn’t refuse.

Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, who’d been interviewed by Connie in Anchorage more times than either could count, had heard that she’d moved “to Washington” and he wanted to know if she’d take a one-day-a-week job as his press secretary.

The rest is history.

The one-day gig morphed pretty quickly into a full-time second career that lasted for 20 terrific years. Connie took an apartment on Capitol Hill and, because she never drove, Stu would shuttle her to work on Monday mornings and pick her up late on Friday nights. (“Alaska is four hours west,” Stu explains, “so the office started late in the morning and finished well into the evening.”)

When Connie retired in October of 2000 at the age of 74, she was the longest serving press secretary on the Hill, and also (her favorite statistic) the oldest.

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Connie with Sen. Ted Stevens (AK)

Here’s what Mitch Rose, now a senior vice president and top lobbyist for NBC Universal, wrote when he heard that Connie had died. He worked with Connie in Sen. Stevens’ office for nine years, including four as Chief of Staff.

“Connie was the steady rock in Ted Stevens’ press operation for years. They were peers in age, and much like him, she was more concerned with getting the work done right rather than getting the credit….She was the rare adult in a young people’s world of Capitol Hill and seemed to thrive off the energy. She led by example and there are literally hundreds of young Alaskans who owe her a debt for the honest, loyal and earnest role model she provided.”

On this side of the Bay, Connie has always found time for Chestertown and Kent County. She served on the boards of Kent Youth, the Chester River Hospital, the Chester River Hospital Foundation, Soroptimists, Questers and the Kent County Historical Society. She was, until the historic house was put up for sale, a docent at Geddes Piper House.

Connie and Stu had four children, Mark, “Peekie,” Chris and Gregory. Gregory was a little boy when he died many years ago, and Chris was a much-loved stalwart newspaper copy editor in Delaware who died in 2009. Connie is also survived by three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, and there’s one more on the way.

Mark Godwin and Peekie O’Connor live in Des Moines. Peekie is a physical education teacher who won “Teacher of the Year” honors a few years ago, and Mark Godwin recently retired after 18 years as Deputy City Attorney of Des Moines.

Mark says Connie was “the single most vigilant mother and grandmother ever,” and Peekie agrees. She adores Connie’s favorite warning to her brood—“Ah! Ah! Sharp corner! Sharp corner!”

After her retirement, around 2003, Connie and I started teaching an occasional series of journalism classes for WC-ALL, popular because Connie filled our classes with world-class guest speaker journalists who were happy to repay Connie for decades of kept deadlines and honest information.

Working with Connie and being her friend has been one of the great joys of my life.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Maryann Ruehrmund says:

    A life very well lived.
    A friend and mentor – Connie will be missed beyond words.

  2. Beryl Smith says:

    Margie,
    Thanks for the wonderful tribute to Connie. I came late to knowing Connie, but she was my special friend who was always there at the end of the computer or phone lines. We met at a wine dinner in the old Kennedyville Inn and kept sipping wine ever after. And, imagine my surprise to learn that she not only knew, but lived next door to a relative in Anchorage. Small world!
    Connie was special and she will be missed by everyone whose life she touched.

  3. jenifer endicott emley says:

    Wow! What a talented and gifted person I am so sorry for Chestertown’s big loss.

  4. Thank you, Margie, for that wonderful portrait of a wonderful woman. I have a very small detail to add. For the past 17 years, Connie and I shared neighboring property on a cul de sac and kept each other alerted to all the excitement of our living marsh. The phone would ring and without so much as a hello I’d hear that a fox and three kits were headed my way, or a bald eagle was tussling with an osprey over something yummy. She alerted me gleefully to deer, raccoons, hawks, and once “Something large and dark”, whereupon I locked my doors and peered nervously out the windows. Never saw it. And when I look at the twinkle in those wonderful eyes, I can’t help thinking that, just maybe, she was having me on. I’ll keep an eye out, though, Connie. Just in case… just for you.

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