Phyllis Baker Newton could hold a conversation with anyone on just about anything.
A curious journalist by trade and an eager intellectual by habit, Mrs. Newton had a hunger for information and an even stronger desire to share that information with others.
“She could talk to a telephone pole and get a response,” said Joe Anne Murray of Harwich Port, one of her former employees.
A longtime journalist who later launched a career counseling center in Needham to help women find jobs, Mrs. Newton, whose health had been failing, died March 5 in Harbor Point at Centerville. She was 94 and previously had split her time between Harwich Port and Naples, Fla.
She knew when she was young that she wanted to pursue journalism, and she let curiosity and ambition lead the way in her early education and career.
“Although I had never been really active on a school newspaper, I was beginning to know I wanted to be a journalist,” Mrs. Newton wrote in a personal essay about a decade ago. “The idea of doing and learning something different every day and knowing what was happening before anyone else was very appealing to me.”
The older of two children, Mrs. Newton was born in Chicago, the daughter of George E. Baker and the former Marjorie Newstrom. While Mrs. Newton was young, she and her family moved several times, living in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., before settling in the Boston area for most of her childhood.
She went to schools in Brighton and Watertown and was pushed ahead of her class twice. Then during her sophomore year of high school, her family moved back to Chicago. She spent a couple of years attending high school there before her family moved back to Watertown, where she graduated from Watertown High School in 1940, two years ahead of most high school students her age.
Continuing her education at Simmons College, she majored in English, journalism, and publishing, and also made time to study economics, government, and business law.
“She’s so versatile and had so many interests during her life,” said Joan Lowney of Needham, who met Mrs. Newton on their first day of college together at Simmons. “She enjoyed everything she did – everything.”
Lowney, who died several days after being interviewed for Mrs. Newton’s obituary, added that her friend “was someone that I could go to no matter what, and she could come to me no matter what.”
After graduating from college, Mrs. Newton spent several decades working at news organizations, and had bylines in Time magazine, the Lowell Sun, the Patriot Ledger of Quincy, the Newton Graphic, and the Dedham Transcript. Notably, she spent about three years as the editor of the Needham Chronicle, and she wrote a daily advice column under a pen name in the Boston Herald Traveler.
While forging her journalism career, Mrs. Newton briefly founded her own public relations firm in 1947 for schools, theaters, and other businesses. She sold that business to a competitor a few years later and continued her work as a reporter.
“She managed a work-life balance and she demonstrated that a working professional woman can have it all, in a sense,” said her son Gary of New York City.
In 1976, Mrs. Newton again launched a business: a career counseling center in Needham that focused on helping educated women enter and re-enter the workforce.
Murray, who worked at the center, was job searching in 1978 when she first met Mrs. Newton. Murray said the center was a strong business and all the employees got along well.
“She probably was the most astute businesswoman that I’ve ever come across,” Murray said.
Even after Mrs. Newton retired and began spending winters in Naples, her urge to be a leader in the community never subsided. When she wasn’t playing tennis or teaching bridge, she was coordinating musical productions at the retirement community where she lived.
Lowney recalled that the musicals were “so professional” and “made such a difference” for the people living there.
Phyllis Baker met John Newton through a friend in the early 1940s. They dated for about seven years and married in Brighton in 1948. They had been married for 64 years when he died in 2012.
The couple had three children, raising them first in Mattapan, then in Newton Lower Falls, and finally in Needham, where the family moved in about 1958.
Mrs. Newton had been very involved with Unitarian churches in Newton and Needham, and she raised her children in the Unitarian faith, Gary said.
In recent years, Mrs. Newton enjoyed spending time with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, building traditions with them, and sending them clippings and quotes that resonated with her.
Sophie Murray of Walpole recalled that her great-grandmother “was very funny and she talked a lot,” often telling her stories about her childhood.
In her family, Mrs. Newton went by a variety of names, but she preferred personal nicknames to the traditional family titles. Some family members called her by her first name. Others called her The Queen Mother, or TQM for short.
“When the grandchildren started coming along, she insisted that she not be called ‘grandmother’ or ‘grandma,’ ” Gary said. “She wanted to be called by her name.”
Sarah Worden of Litchfield, Conn., one of Mrs. Newton’s granddaughters, said that “she was always just Phyllis. She was more than a grandmother.”
In addition to her son Gary, granddaughter Sarah, and great-granddaughter Sophie, Mrs. Newton leaves another son, John of Warren, Conn.; a daughter, Beth of Yarmouth Port; her brother John E. Baker of Vero Beach, Fla.; five other grandchildren; and five other great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. May 12 in Pilgrim Congregational Church in Harwich Port.
Through her varied hobbies and wide-ranging career, Mrs. Newton made countless friends throughout her lifetime, her family said.
Sarah said her grandmother remained deeply interested in learning about others and hearing about their lives.
“That was the journalist part of her,” said Sarah, who added that “she was definitely a doer and a go-getter. She wasn’t just someone that sat around and complained. She made things happen.”Felicia Gans can be reached at email@example.com.