Famous storyteller, columnist Kathryn Windham dies

AP News
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Posted: Jun 12, 2011 11:09 PM
Famous storyteller, columnist Kathryn Windham dies

Kathryn Tucker Windham, a master storyteller and author who was a woman police reporter in a time when there were few, died on Sunday. She was 93.

Dilcy Hilley told The Associated Press that her mother had a variety of illnesses recently and died at her home in Selma.

According to a biography from the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Windham wrote two dozen books, many of them ghost stories. In 1940, she went to work for the Alabama Journal in Montgomery and was one of the first female reporters to cover the police beat on a major daily newspaper in the South.

From the 1950s to early 1970s, she worked for The Selma Times-Journal where she won several awards for her columns and photography.

She also regularly contributed to the segment "All Things Considered" for National Public Radio in the 1980s.

"She was a remarkable woman unlike anyone we will know for a long time," Hilley said.

Windham was born in 1918 to James Wilson Tucker and Helen Gaines Tabb Tucker and grew up in Thomasville.

Trying to gain the respect of police on her beat at the Alabama Journal, she said she went along with them to a ravine where a child's body was recovered.

"When they saw me stay with them on that one, they accepted me," Windham had told the Montgomery Advertiser. "They knew I could do a good job, just like our male reporters."

While working for the Birmingham News in 1946, she met her husband, Amasa Benjamin Windham. They moved to Selma and had two children before his death 10 years later.

A widow needing to make a living, she went to work for the Selma paper. From 1950 to 1966, she penned a locally syndicated newspaper column, "Around Our House," according to an online biography on the Encyclopedia of Alabama.

Between 1985 and 1987, she did her five-minute NPR pieces, mostly about Dixie, in her Southern drawl.

"She was an amazing woman," said her son, Amasa Benjamin Windham Jr.

"She was very much a trailblazer as a female reporter," said Windham Jr., who followed his mother's footsteps and retired several years ago as an editor for the Tuscaloosa News.

Her eight-book series about Jeffrey the "ghost" who lived in their Selma house sold thousands of copies.

Hilley said her mother wrote her own four-line obituary that talked only of her family. She listed who preceded in her in death, including her husband, parents and one daughter, Kathryn Tabb (Kitti) Windham. Besides Hilley and Windham Jr., she is survived by her grandsons, David Windham and Benjamin Hilley, and several nieces and nephews. She asked that memorial contributions be made to the Friends of the Selma Public Library.

About her short life summary, Hilley said, "That's all she would want."

"She was just wonderful person who was on this earth to bring joy to others and she did that with great pleasure," Hilley said.

Her celebrity in Alabama was widespread, including with the Kathryn Tucker Windham Museum at Alabama Southern Community College in Thomasville.

At Windham's 90th birthday celebration in Selma in 2008, Wayne Flynt, a former Auburn University professor who edits the Encyclopedia of Alabama and researches Southern culture and traditions, described Windham as a unique.

"Some people are important to intellectuals, journalists or politicians, but Kathryn Tucker Windham is probably the only person I know in Alabama who is important to everybody," he said.