Denise Riley honored as ‘Woman of Distinction’
EASTON — Girls and mentors, mothers and daughters, family and community were the theme Friday as the Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay honored Denise Perry Riley as its 2016 Woman of Distinction.
Riley, editor emeritus of The Star Democrat, said Girl Scouts “helped me cope with the loss of my mother and the separation from my brothers who were living with my father and paternal grandparents.”
She said she participated in Girl Scouts in Pennsylvania and in Arizona, where she lived for a time with her mother before her mother’s death.
“One of the last things she did with me before she died in December 1958” was to shop for a Girl Scout uniform, Riley said through tears.
After her mother’s death, Riley lived for a time with her maternal grandparents in Pennsylvania and joined the Girl Scouts there.
“It was tough at first,” she said of joining a new troop, but the leaders and the girls made her welcome.
In fall 1959, she was elected president of her troop and recalled a 1960 event when the Girl Scouts celebrated International Day of Dance.
Riley’s troop donned kilts and did the Scottish Highland Fling.
She spoke about the importance of family, friends and community, pointing out the family and friends who had joined her for Friday’s ceremony, including her sisters Kim Whiteley and Debbye Jackson and former Star Democrat co-workers Barbara Sauers and Sylvia Gannon.
When she was a young reporter, Riley noted, people often asked her if she wanted to eventually work at a big city newspaper, such as The Washington Post.
“No” was always her emphatic reply.
She said “it meant everything to me” to work at her local newspaper, covering the community where she grew up and where her family and friends lived.
Riley’s journalism career spanned more than 40 years, including nearly 30 years as editor of The Star Democrat, where she was the first woman named editor in the 200-year history of the paper.
The week after she graduated from Easton High School in June 1965, Riley went to work in the composition department of The Star Democrat. She held that job all four summers when she was a student at the University of Maryland. At University of Maryland she was a reporter on the daily student newspaper, The Diamondback. In June 1969, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business and public administration, with a major in journalism.
Two days later, Riley became news editor at The Record-Observer. Six months later, she also became acting editor of The Chester River Press, a small weekly in Chestertown. In summer 1970, she was promoted to editor of The Record-Observer. She continued in that post until May 1973, when she became news editor at The Star Democrat. In 1982, she was promoted to editor of The Star Democrat. She later was the first woman to win the John Hay Whitney Fellowship, which took her to Paris to work on the copy desk of the International Herald Tribune from 1986 to 1987.
Jackson noted that her sister followed in their father’s footsteps into journalism. Bill Perry was a longtime outdoor columnist for The Star Democrat.
“He was so proud of that, especially when she became the first female editor of The Star Democrat, making her his boss,” she said.
“Denise was the mother hen” of her siblings, she said, in a close family that still remains close.
“Growing up, my big sister was my hero,” Jackson said. The sisters shared a room and “I was always distraught when she left for College Park.”
“She has mentored so many reporters, writers and editors,” Jackson said. “What a legacy she has provided for the girls in our family.”
Gannon, who was the advertising director at The Star Democrat, offered some insight on the newspaper business and some background about some of Riley’s awards.
Riley worked in “paste up” in the paper’s composition department in the summers home from college, Gannon said.
They often would work late, “tr ying to paste up these little things” for advertisements in the days before computer technology transformed the newspaper industr y.
Gannon noted that Riley had been inducted, in 2014, into the Mar yland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association Hall of Fame.
“Maryland, Delaware and D.C.,” Gannon said, “we’re talking about some pretty big publications.”
Riley’s selection for the Whitney fellowship to work at the International Herald Tribune also was a major honor, Gannon said.
At the time, The Star Democrat was owned by Chesapeake Publishing, a division of Whitcom Partners. Whitcom Partners was owned by Whitney Communications, which owned newspapers, magazines and cable television systems across the country. That company was formed after John Hay “Jock” Whitney, U.S. ambassador to Britain from 1957 to 1961, took control of The Herald Tribune in New York in 1958 an attempt to save that newspaper. It closed in 1966.
Shortly before it closed, Whitney sold an interest in the paper’s Paris edition to The Washington Post, according to Whitney’s obituary in The New York Times. The New York Times joined the venture the following year and the paper became The International Herald Tribune.
Gannon said Whitney Communications was a large business, with numerous newspapers.
“To have all these newspapers and being chosen to work at The International Herald Tribune” is a testament to Riley’s ability as a journalist and editor.
Patti Willis, senior vice president, strategy and communications for University of Maryland Shore Re- gional Health, said she was among those who were taught and men- tored by Riley, even though she didn’t work with her.
“Denise taught me as a PR person how to work with and respect the journalism profession,” Willis said.
“When my needs and wishes were inappropriate” to the needs and role of the newspaper, Riley gently worked with her and taught her how to work with the media.
Riley also showed her the importance of local media and local journalism, she said.
“I was taught, I was mentored, the same way she has mentored so many,” Willis said.
She also noted a personal connection with Riley and her family.
Willis said a photo of her father, taken by Riley in the 1970s when she was editor of The Record-Observer, is in her living room. Riley also allowed Willis’ daughter, Katie, to intern at The Star Democrat several years ago.
After obtaining a degree in journalism and working in another field for several years, Katie Willis is now a reporter at The Star Democrat.
Audrey Scott, the 2015 Woman of Distinction and honorary chairman for Friday’s event, introduced Riley for the award presentation.
Scott noted that during Riley’s tenure with The Star Democrat, the newspaper grew from a five-day daily to six days with the addition of a Sunday edition and circulation grew to nearly 20,000 daily.
She trained dozens of young reporters and editors. She also guided the newspaper into the digital age, adding an internet site. Eventually she was named executive editor of The Star Democrat. Her duties included overseeing Mid-Shore weekly newspapers: The RecordObserver, The Bay Times, The Times Record and The Dorchester Star.
Riley was executive editor until spring 2010 when her health declined. In 2011, she was named editor emeritus. During her career, she received numerous awards from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association and the Associated Press. For several years, she chaired the Bill Perry Scholarship Fund of the Waterfowl Festival. She also served two terms on the board of directors of the Waterfowl Festival. In 2002, she received the Calibre Certificate of Recognition for Valuable Contribution to Public Mental Health, presented by the Mid Shore Mental Health Association. In 2004, she was named to the Talbot County Hall of Fame for American Association of University Women. In October 2006, she was named Talbot County Businesswoman of the Year by the Talbot County Chamber of Commerce.
In 2007, she was named to Maryland’s Top 100 Women by The Daily Record in Baltimore. In July 2014, she was inducted into Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the University of Maryland’s Merrill School of Journalism in College Park.
Scott said the Mid-Shore Woman of Distinction award honors a woman from the Delmarva Peninsula who has made a significant contribution to her company and the community and who has embodied Girl Scout ideals, including service, hard work, honesty, integrity and sisterhood.
A Star Democrat subscriber, Scott said Riley began writing a weekly column for the paper in fall 2015, “which we all read. I relish it.”
Scott said Denise Perry Riley, DPR, really stands for Dynamic Potent Resource.
She said Riley and other woman community leaders are role models for Girl Scouts and others.
“We never, ever lost that resource that has made us all so successful,” Scott, herself a Girl Scout, said.
Riley also was honored Friday with a proclamation from the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates, presented by Sen. Addie Eckardt and Del. Johnny Mautz.
Eckardt said Riley is “someone to look up to” and “who has great advice.”
Riley and her husband of 26 years, William J. Riley, a retired marine engineer, live near Trappe. They are members of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Easton.
Each year, the Mid-Shore Woman of Distinction event celebrates a woman who has made a difference in their community, inspired others and provided a positive role model for girls and young women.
Anne T. Hogan, chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay, said “once again, we have a phenomenal woman as our Mid-Shore Woman of Distinction.”
In addition to honoring a MidShore woman, the annual event also serves as a reminder of the need for mentors and leaders for the Girl Scouts, as well as contributions to help defray costs for local girls.
Hogan said the region has nearly 100 girls on waiting lists.
“We need some mentors. Whether it’s a one-time shot or becoming a leader, let’s help some other girls. Let’s be mentors for other girls,” Hogan said.
To learn more about Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay, visit www. GSCB.org or call 1-800-341-4007.
Anne T. Hogan, chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay, presents Denise Perry Riley with the 2016 Mid-Shore Woman of Distinction Award.
Denise Riley with her old friend Scott MacGlashan, Queen Anne’s County Circuit Court Clerk, at the Girl Scouts Mid-Shore Woman of Distinction luncheon. MacGlashan said Riley wrote fierce editorials that kept the commissioners on their toes.
Denise Perry Riley, former editor of The Record Observer, talks about her association with Girl Scouts as she is recognized with the 2016 Mid-Shore Woman of Distinction Award.
Debbye Jackson describes growing up with her sister Denise Perry Riley, 2016 Mid-Shore Woman of Distinction.
Audrey Scott, of Queenstown, the 2015 Mid-Shore Woman of Distinction, introduces Denise Perry Riley, this year’s award recipient.