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Virginia Bohlin, a newspaperwoman for 73 years, dies at 101

Mrs. Dorman in the 1940s. She had 34 years of experience as a reporter, columnist, and editor when the Globe hired her in 1976. Then she worked for another 39 years.
Mrs. Dorman in the 1940s. She had 34 years of experience as a reporter, columnist, and editor when the Globe hired her in 1976. Then she worked for another 39 years.Bohlin Family

In June 1953, the year’s most anticipated engagement announcement arrived in the Boston Herald Traveler newsroom. Everyone knew the prospective groom, US Senator John F. Kennedy, “but just who is this Jacqueline Bouvier,” the city editor wondered.

He sent Virginia Bohlin to find out. Talking her way into a Newport, R.I., mansion, she charmed Bouvier’s stepfather, Hugh Auchincloss, into persuading Kennedy’s fiancée to speak with a reporter.

“This is my first interview,” Bouvier told her, “so I hope you don’t make me sound silly.”

A serious reporter who brought depth and insight to subjects others treated lightly, Virginia Bohlin Dorman wrote for more than seven decades as Virginia Bohlin, her byline before marrying, including nearly 40 years as the Globe’s antiques columnist.

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Mrs. Dorman was 101 when she died Jan. 20 in her longtime Boxford home after her health declined due to congestive heart failure.

In a newspaper career unlikely to be repeated nowadays, she had 34 years of experience as a reporter, columnist, and editor when the Globe hired her in 1976. Then she worked for another 39 years.

“All good things must come to an end. The great poet Geoffrey Chaucer said that,” she wrote for the Globe in December 2015, days after turning 96, adding that “today, after more than 73 years as a newspaperwoman, 39 of those years writing Antiques & Collectibles, good things come to an end for me too. This is my last column.”

Recognized for her work throughout her career, Mrs. Dorman received honors including the Marjorie Mills Award for service to women in New England journalism in 1947 and — 69 years later — a Lifetime Achievement Award during the annual AD20/21: Art & Design of the 20th & 21st Century show in Boston.

“Virginia wasn’t just an enduring presence on our pages over all those decades, but a graceful voice,” said Brian McGrory, the Globe’s editor. “She had an expert eye and a wonderful way with words that meant an immense amount to literally generations of our readers.”

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But simply getting a journalism job was difficult when Mrs. Dorman first walked into a newsroom, in 1942.

Soon to graduate with honors from Radcliffe College with a bachelor’s degree in French, Italian, and Spanish, Mrs. Dorman cast aside the school’s suggestion that students take a summer class in shorthand and typing “to get you in the door” with employers.

While walking to the state Education Department’s offices to fill out an application — “I figured could find a job as a French teacher,” she told WickedLocal of Boxford in 2016 — she spotted the Boston Herald Traveler sign atop its building and stepped inside.

Directed to the managing editor, a man who was busy finishing work on the day’s first edition, she asked about a reporting job, and wrote about their exchange decades later.

“Well, let me tell you, one woman is one too many for a newsroom,” he said before handing her an index card as he walked away: “Fill this out if you want.”

Two weeks later, prompted perhaps by losing male employees to military service during World War II, the editor called to offer her a job.

“I had to tell him that I hadn’t finished college yet, but I could start the Monday after graduation in June,” she recalled in autobiographical writings that are as yet unpublished.

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She progressed from reporter to columnist to editing the newspaper’s living section, supervising more than a dozen staff members.

“Honestly, I liked to write and would have preferred to continue as a reporter,” she told WickedLocal, “but they needed me to oversee this umbrella section that included fashion, food, beauty, garden, and more.”

In 1950, she married William E. Dorman Jr., a Herald Traveler reporter who became editor of the real estate section.

Mrs. Dorman joined the Globe staff in 1976, the same year her husband became the Globe’s real estate columnist.

After she wrote a few feature stories, the Globe published her first antiques column on Sept. 5, 1976. Her illuminating, engaging writing about antiques became her signature work for the rest of her career.

Some 15 or so years ago, Mrs. Dorman’s son was driving her into Boston for an appointment, a trip that provided time to work.

“She’s got her laptop open and she’s in her 80s and she’s interviewing someone over the phone,” said William Dorman III of Quechee, Vt., who goes by Terry.

“I said, ‘What are you still doing it for?’ And she said, ‘I’m writing about a subject I’m interested in, I’m always meeting new people, I’m learning the computer. What else would I be doing — sitting at home watching TV?’ "

Virginia Bohlin was born in Worcester on Dec. 9, 1919, the oldest of three siblings.

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Her father, Allan Bohlin, worked in the selling and promoting of stocks. Her mother, Edythe Olson Bohlin, worked in a photography studio retouching prints.

Mrs. Dorman attended Radcliffe on a scholarship that she initially augmented by living in the home of a Cambridge couple and taking care of their children.

That work ethic remained through decades as a journalist and parent.

“It was amazing, even as a child, to see how much she juggled, and how she did it with such ease,” said her daughter, Caroline Lockhart of New Castle, N.H.

“She got up every morning and was in her high heels getting breakfast for us and heading into Boston five days a week,” Lockhart added. “She just had an amazing abundance of energy. She was so smart, so kind, so full of life.”

Mrs. Dorman and her husband “were a great team together,” their daughter said. “They knew everybody in town.”

He retired from the Globe in 1981 and then devoted time to managing and preserving forest land that had been in his family. When Mr. Dorman died in 2010, he left a letter for his family that said in part: “Please do not mourn me. You couldn’t have given me a greater life.”

On the day he died, the family gathered in the living room of the Boxford home to share stories.

“After a while, mom stood up to announce she was off to finish her column, due electronically at the Globe later in the day,” her son would later recall.

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He suggested that her editors probably would cut her some slack, given the circumstances, “to which she said, ‘I haven’t missed a deadline in 66 years. I am not going to start today.’ ”

In addition to her daughter and son, Mrs. Dorman leaves three granddaughters.

A service will be announced after pandemic-related restrictions on the size of gatherings is lifted.

For the past few years, Mrs. Dorman worked on a memoir she thought might provide her granddaughters Abigail, Elizabeth, and Rebecca with insight into her life and work.

She drew from decades of reminders of stories past, including letters from Jacqueline Kennedy, whom Mrs. Dorman wrote about when she and Jack settled in Washington, D.C., after marrying.

“I just want to tell you if I’d ever dreamed of a perfect story that was it,” Kennedy said in a handwritten note. “You just couldn’t possibly have done anything that would thrill Jack or me more. He said, ‘Gosh, she can really write, can’t she.’ ”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.