At 88, state Korean War vet­eran still go­ing strong

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - News - By Ig­na­cio La­guarda ig­na­cio.la­guarda@stam­for­dad­vo­cate.com

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.”

Tyler Size­more / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Korean War vet­eran Sharon Joy Work­man at her home in Stam­ford on Fri­day.

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