At 88, state Korean War veteran still going strong
STAMFORD — Sharon Joy Workman wears many hats.
The 88- year- old Stamford woman, who says she’s “too active,” has served in the United States military during the Korean War, written for Life and People magazines, raised four children and now organizes events, serves on committees and directs and stars in plays at Edgehill, the retirement community where she resides.
And she has a collection of more than 100 hats.
Known affectionately by Edgehill residents as the “Hat Lady,” Workman has always stood out, from her humble beginnings in Kentucky, to her stints as a reporter for Life and People magazines.
When she was 22 years old, the ambitious Workman was itching to travel, having only been about 40 miles from her hometown in Kentucky.
She was recruited by the CIA during her senior year of college at Marshall University in Huntington, W. Va. To this day, Workman doesn’t know why the intelligence agency pursued her, but she quickly realized the organization wasn’t the right fit.
She desperately wanted to travel, but the CIA told her “You have to go where we tell you,” she said, and they had plans to assign her to Washington to study the Siamese language, the national language of Thailand.
So, Workman decided to go to the Army offices in Washington to inquire about service.
“They said, ‘ If you go to Japan, we’ll send you in 30 days,’ ” Workman recalled.
She agreed, and she was soon stationed in Tokyo, where she lived in a women’s hotel across the street from the Imperial Palace.
Workman was an intelligence analyst for the psychological warfare unit of the U. S. armed forces. She monitored communist radio broadcasts emanating from the Soviet Union and provided written reports on the transcripts.
“You could see the communist movement being spread all over the place,” she said.
Workman was adept at the job and received a commendation for meritorious service for performing her duties at a high level.
She recalls her time in the service as an “adventure.”
Far removed from the combat in Korea, Workman lived comfortably, and turned heads in Tokyo.
“It was like being the belle of the ball,” she said. “I was this red- haired, ponytailed American girl. There weren’t many of those wandering around in the Far East in 1952.”
Once she returned to the U. S., Workman found employment in New York City for Life magazine. Before entering the military, Workman was the associate editor of the college newspaper at Marshall University and worked as a feature writer and columnist for the Herald- Advertiser in West Virginia, where she wrote a series called “How Huntington Lives.”
“I love to learn,” Workman said. “My mother was a teacher and I think that’s why I was interested in journalism.”
As a reporter for Life, Workman contributed mostly to the publication’s high- society pages during the mid- to late- 1950s, but workplace sexism prevented her from getting more acclaim.
“You didn’t write ( the articles),” she said. “You did the interviews and you turned them over to a man and he got the byline.”
Workman knew the male writer sitting next to her made twice as much as her, but she was still thrilled to be working for one of the most important publications of the time.
“I was so proud and thrilled that I just didn’t care because it was the best social credential in that area in that time,” she said, referring to her title as a reporter.
While at the magazine, Workman met and worked with famous photographers like Margaret BurkeWhite, Alfred Eisenstaedt and Cornell Capa, who founded the International Center of Photography.
Once she had her first child, Workman left her job and was unemployed for 14 years, living in Darien.
She returned to the workforce in 1974 when she received an offer to be one of the founding reporters for People magazine. She worked at the magazine until 1988.
Workman became an Edgehill retirement community resident eight years ago, after raising her four children in Darien.
At the retirement community, Workman has become one of the most popular residents.
She has served on the resident council and the council executive committee, and has introduced a number of programs and activities, including a Spanish class, New Yorker and short story discussion groups, and she even came up with the concept for “Table 61,” an open table in the dining hall for people to eat if they’re alone.
She has also directed and performed in plays as part of the Edgehill Players, including a performance of “Love Letters” that earned a standing ovation.
“If I’m going to live this long, I don’t want to just take up space on the planet, so I thought, ‘ you should try to be useful in your last years,’ ” she said. “So that’s why I’ve done all the things I’ve done.”
Korean War veteran Sharon Joy Workman at her home in Stamford on Friday.