Denise Ri­ley hon­ored as ‘Woman of Distinc­tion’

Record Observer - - News - By JOHN GRIEP jgriep@star­

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. 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.

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