Nardi Reeder Campion, 90; was author and columnist

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Bryan Marquard
Globe Staff / December 14, 2007

Which Nardi Reeder Campion column was the most read? Tough call.

"Fifty Years of Sex," published in The New York Times the year of her golden wedding anniversary, certainly got handed around. So did a 1983 article in the Globe about attending college reunions.

Vying with those two is "Why I Stopped Driving My Car," a column Mrs. Campion wrote a few years ago after an accident prompted her to set aside her keys. In it, she suggested ways for elderly drivers to get around without a car. Among the options: hitchhike. Which she did. Three times. At 86.

"The third time cured me," she wrote. "Wouldn't you think people would stop for an old lady smiling and waving her thumb, her white hair shining in the sun? Forget it. Car after car zipped by without even slowing down."

Author of nine books and a freelancer whose work appeared in publications such as The New Yorker and Sports Illustrated, Mrs. Campion spent part of Nov. 29 on the phone with her editor at the Valley News in West Lebanon, N.H., discussing a column she was working on about her dislike of interruptions. That night she died in her sleep at the Harvest Hill retirement community in Lebanon. She was 90.

"I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of my dear and loyal friend, Nardi Reeder Campion," Senator Hillary Clinton wrote in an e-mail yesterday.

"She was a prolific, accomplished, and wonderful writer of biography, history, society, and the human condition. I met Nardi during the 1992 presidential campaign, when she interviewed me at Dartmouth," Clinton said. "We became fast friends and correspondents over the years. She had a fierce devotion to our alma mater, Wellesley College, which we shared. I admired Nardi for many things, but especially for her spirit, openness, and humor that grew out of her sincerity and strong sense of self."

In her "Everyday Matters" columns in the Valley News, Mrs. Campion often chose as her subject the changes that come with growing old. By turns pithy and profound, she could also be bracingly direct.

"I always planned to write the story of my life," she wrote in the introduction to "Over the Hill, You Pick Up Speed," a collection of her columns that was published last year.

"I kept diaries and voluminous notebooks, thinking, 'If I get the time, I'll have the material.' When I finally sat down to read them, I got a terrible shock. Only one word describes those diaries: boring."

Her column in the Valley News proved to be the antidote. "If you want to learn to write short - an invaluable skill - a newspaper column is the place to begin," she wrote.

Narcissa Pillow Reeder was born in Hawaii, where her father was stationed in the Army. She went to elementary school in Kansas, attended high school in the Panama Canal Zone, and majored in English at Wellesley. She and Thomas Baird Campion met on a date, but not with each other.

"I think he had a date with someone else at Wellesley and she had a date with someone else from Harvard," said their son Tad of Brookline. "They both figured that their dates weren't very interesting, but they found each other that way."

The couple married in 1941 and lived in Cincinnati before settling in Bronxville, N.Y., while he worked for The New York Times. Their friends included Brendan Gill, a writer at The New Yorker, who one evening squired Mrs. Campion to see Jerry Orbach perform in "The Threepenny Opera" on Broadway.

"What I remember as a kid was that it was just great to listen to them because they had so much humor," Tad Campion said of his parents and their friends.

"They just loved telling stories, one competing with another to see who could be more witty. It was all laughter."

Mrs. Campion began her writing career by helped an older brother, Colonel Red Reeder, embark on his own writer's life. The two collaborated on "Bringing Up the Brass." John Ford directed a film version of their book, "The Long Gray Line."

As she raised her children, Mrs. Campion wrote more and more, recalling in a 25th reunion book entry for Wellesley: "I finished one book in the maternity ward and am sure it was easier to have a baby than a book, though both are nice."

The Campions moved to Hanover, N.H., in the late 1970s and to Lebanon in 2000. In 1998, she received the Syrena Stackpole Award from Wellesley's alumnae association for her dedication to the college.

The couple was also devoted to Dartmouth College, which several of their children and grandchildren attended, and counted among their friends James Wright, Dartmouth's president, and his wife, Susan.

"She was a wonderful friend to so many local organizations," Wright said in a prepared statement. "Susan and I will miss her joyful presence on campus."

Said Anne Adams, Mrs. Campion's editor at the Valley News for about 18 years, "I think she was pretty extraordinary in a lot of ways, not the least of which was that she and I talked on Thursday, which was the last day of her life, about a column she was going to do in the near future. How many of us can say that we were hard at work on our last day? She was just somebody who lived life every second she was alive."

In addition to her son Tad, Mrs. Campion leaves three other sons, Thomas of Ketchum, Idaho, Toby of Santa Barbara, Calif., and Russell of Chicago; a daughter, Narcissa, of Brookline; eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A funeral will be held tomorrow at 1 p.m. in St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hanover, N.H.

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