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Ian Menzies, former Globe columnist and managing editor, dies at 101

Ian Menzies in 2020, standing next to his military medals, including the Distinguished Service Cross.
Ian Menzies in 2020, standing next to his military medals, including the Distinguished Service Cross.

As his youthful school years in Scotland drew to a close in the 1930s, Ian Menzies knew what he wanted to avoid.

“Nearing my 18th birthday I realized three things, (1) I was not a scholar, (2) war was coming, and (3) I wanted freedom from the confinement of an office,” Mr. Menzies wrote in a memoir.

Inspired by books and movies, he “decided to try for journalism” and soon began working at the Glasgow Herald.

Service as a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve officer aboard the HMS Stayner destroyer during World War II intervened, but the newspaper career he chose as a 17 -year-old lasted for about seven decades, including nearly 40 years at The Boston Globe as a reporter, managing editor, and columnist.

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Mr. Menzies, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during the D-Day invasion of Normandy, died June 1 in his Linden Ponds home in Hingham. He was 101 and his health had declined since a joyous 100th birthday celebration that included Scottish bagpipes.

Ian Menzies in his Royal Navy uniform during World War II.
Ian Menzies in his Royal Navy uniform during World War II.

Ever the newspaperman concerned about facts, he noted at the outset of his 2012 memoir, “We Fought Them on the Seas: Seven Years in the Royal Navy,” that readers might “ask, not unreasonably, how can he remember events in such detail, personal detail, during almost seven years of World War II in the Royal Navy in three different destroyers as well as other ships, in theatres from the North Sea to the North Atlantic, from the English Channel to the Mediterranean, and from the West Indies to West Africa and the South Atlantic.”

The reasons, he said, were simple.

“I kept diaries during the war years; a practice I readily admit is frowned upon by the Royal Navy,” he wrote, adding that “I completed an entire draft of my war years” right after leaving the Navy.

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At the time, a publisher he contacted “was inundated with war books” and made suggestions Mr. Menzies “couldn’t meet as one newly married, changing countries, and seeking employment.”

For 60 years the memoir sat in a drawer until he “realized, watching great-grandchildren at play, that I, in fact, did owe my family something.” He published the memoir when he was 92.

By then Mr. Menzies was writing occasional columns for The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, having completed a career at the Globe that stretched from his first freelance article in 1947 to his final freelance opinion piece in 1987.

Ian Menzies in the Globe offices in Dorchester in 1978.
Ian Menzies in the Globe offices in Dorchester in 1978.File Photo/The Boston Globe

Hired as a Globe staff reporter in 1948, he covered events including the early years of the space race and the Mercury astronauts. In 1961 and ’62, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard University, and later was the Globe’s managing editor.

Named an associate editor in 1970, he wrote a weekly column until he retired in 1985, at age 65.

Mr. Menzies wrote “what I think was a quite influential column, mostly on urban issues,” said Matthew V. Storin, a former editor of the Globe.

“Back when most every columnist just retailed opinions — the columnist’s or, more often, those of the person the columnist had most recently had lunch with — Ian offered information, and it was information that mattered,” said Globe writer and editor Mark Feeney. “He made his own an important, under-reported realm: highways and bridges and traffic and planning. His column stood out in the paper and genuinely enhanced it.”

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Even in his early reporting years, Mr. Menzies wrote with clarity about complex topics, such as the space race.

“We all covered a three-alarm fire or a presidential election, but he knew what made up science and what science meant, and he made it readable,” said Martin F. Nolan, a former Globe editorial page editor who started writing for the Globe when Mr. Menzies was covering the Mercury astronauts. “His byline was a guarantee that this guy knows what he’s talking about.”

In April 1960, a year before the first Mercury mission launched the first American into space, Mr. Menzies described what re-entry would be like.

“The most terrifying moment for the first spaceman will be the fearsome 10 seconds when his capsule slams back into the earth’s atmosphere — a jolt similar to an automobile hitting a 10-foot-thick brick wall at 60 miles an hour,” he wrote for the Globe. “And as things stand today, at that critical time the spaceman’s communications will black out, just as though someone snipped a telephone wire with a pair of scissors.”

An only child, Ian Stuart Menzies was born on March 11, 1920, in Glasgow, the son of John Menzies, who collected bills for a ferry company, and Gertrude Mephius Menzies, who had done accounting for a hotel business.

Though Mr. Menzies considered himself “only an average student,” he became an avid reader of “history, geography, literature and books of all kinds,” he wrote. “I was encouraged by my mother, a great reader herself, who wrote some award-winning poetry.”

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A local boatman, meanwhile, “taught me seamanship as it should be taught — in a small boat.”

Those lessons served him well when, as a lieutenant, he helped set buoys that guided ships to beaches in the Normandy invasion and then helped provide support from the waves during the Allied landings.

Stationed in Hingham after the war, he met Barbara Newton at parties and dances held for servicemen. They married in 1945 and lived in Hingham.

A Mayflower descendant who was an artist and an advocate for those with developmental disabilities and for the environment, Mrs. Menzies died in 2004.

At home as Mr. Menzies helped raise his four daughters, “there was always a very strong sense, and I think he imbued it in us as well, of what was right, what was just, and what was truth,” said his oldest daughter, Marla of Harwich. “There was a strong sense, too, of respect for the environment.”

In his urban affairs columns, Mr. Menzies advocated on behalf of increased rail and ferry service to South Shore communities to address burgeoning traffic congestion and pollution from vehicles.

“He was very concerned about the effect on all these small towns as the traffic would increase, as people came to depend on cars,” Marla said.

After retiring from the Globe, Mr. Menzies was a senior fellow at John McCormack Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Massachusetts Boston and wrote freelance articles for magazines.

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A service has been held for Mr. Menzies, who in addition to Marla leaves three other daughters, Alexa Menzies, Deborah Menzies, and Gillian Menzies Cohan, all of Hingham; two granddaughters; two great-grandchildren; and his companion, Claire Davies of Hingham.

Drawing from his own experiences during World War II watching people in combat and in civilian war efforts, Mr. Menzies was outspoken about gender equality in the military.

In 1979, a year before the military draft was re-established, and when drafting women into the US military was being discussed, he criticized “the utterly sophomoric nonsense being written today about women and the draft, women and combat, and women’s roles as perceived by anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly.”

As a former combat officer, he asked in his column: “Why shouldn’t women who’ve volunteered for the military, and are trained and capable, be assigned to combat roles — to fly fighters, serve on combat ships, operate rocket launchers, tanks, and guns and, if considered physically able, fight alongside male assault troops?”


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