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A cheerful mint green and white shirt plays tastefully with the string of white-white pearls wrapping Jeannette Jordan’s neck. Her thin hands grip a silver walker, adding four sturdy legs to her shaky two. I’m told the wide, bright smile is trademark Jeannette Jordan, not reserved for anyone in particular, but offered generously to all she meets, including me.
Setting up our interview wasn’t difficult, as Jordan’s style is easy and agreeable. Her major obstacle was scheduling around dinner with her husband, Augie.
“I go to dinner at 5:30. Augie, what time am I done with dinner?” Jordan tossed the question respectfully to her husband as I waited for her reply to echo back through my iPhone.
“7pm,” Jordan had informed me after a brief pause. It was at that very moment I first realized the extreme social nature of Jeannette Jordan, a character trait that paired nicely with her twenty-five-year career as society reporter for The Saratogian. I chuckled to myself, noting Jordan’s dedication to her husband and friends and their standing daily social hour (and a half!) in the dining room of the Saratoga community where she and her husband now live.
Jordan and I agreed to meet in a common room inside her complex, around her dinner schedule. After introducing me to the man at the front desk with whom she had been chatting, I follow Jordan into a tastefully decorated space and sit across from her at the room’s lone table.
Reaching into her bag, Jordan pulls out the pile of photos I had requested she bring to the interview.
Twenty-five years as a society columnist and when asked to bring photos of some of the “famous” people she met while carrying a pad and paper for The Saratogian, Jeannette Jordan pulls out… FIVE photos. NOT five albums, as my own editor anticipated and later asked me to clarify, but five PHOTOS. And the very moment Jordan finishes showing me each and every one of the five photos, I completely understand why she chose these and only these, her favorite five. No others could possibly top these, especially not the photo she saves for very last.
One by one, Jordan places a photo on the table in front of us: David Hyde Pierce, at the height of his career with the sitcom Frazier, sitting with Jordan at a Saratoga event,
“I was doing interviews and he sat there and chit-chatted. He
was very laid back. He wasn’t
Tony Bennett, posing with Jordan,
“Very nice, very very nice…
they all were, really.”
David Cassidy and Jordan posing at
a Saratoga event.
Jordan and John Forsythe at the Kentucky Derby, while Jordan was on-assignment with The Saratogian,
“I liked him a-lot. This was at the derby… (he was) outgoing, pleasant, didn’t shun you.”
And the photo she saves for very last, her most treasured, one singular photo which outshines one-hundred of any others Jordan could ever offer up— a group shot that includes Jeannette Jordan and her husband Augie, Walter Cronkite, his wife Betsy and none other than Saratoga’s own celebrity, socialite and philanthropist of the finest order, Marylou Whitney, all standing in front of the magnificent airplane Whitney chartered to fly the entire group to the Kentucky Derby.
“Marylou flew me to the Kentucky Derby as her guest. I went twice for the paper and did stories. She said, ‘I want you to come and not have to work’.”
Being flown by The Saratogian to write about The Kentucky Derby is impressive enough and very telling of Jordan’s talent, but being flown as a personal guest of Marylou Whitney’s? Her most enviable moment… especially when the friendship started with a simple interview.
“I used to go occasionally with Marylou because I’ve known her through working at the paper. I first went to her place to interview her and I don’t know why, but she took a liking to me and we’ve been friends for years. They’ve been here (at Jordan’s current home), her and her husband… She was always very friendly and what I remember most is that people would come up to her and she never shoved them away. She was always very welcoming to anybody. She could’ve not been that way. She was always very kind and thoughtful… When she had her ball at the (Canfield) Casino she was very flamboyant. She rode in on a two-decker bus, came down on a helicopter. Hundreds of people would gather and she’d walk and shake their hands. She is an exceptional person… Marylou is always kind to everyone.
You didn’t have to have money for her to
be kind to you.”
Jordan says you didn’t have to have money for her to feature you in her column, either. She remembers writing about parties great and small, from casual birthday parties inside the track to grand galas, such as those she covered with Marylou Whitney.
“They all stood out… I looked forward to all of them. None stood out more than Marylou’s actual parties- they were my favorites. I covered so many different ones. There were very few I didn’t get excited about.”
And who wouldn’t be excited by a life strung together with party after party, a stark contrast to Jordan’s earlier years, logged as a dedicated stay-at-home mom to four children. Jordan says during that time, she had no goal to work outside the home… until one day she did. So, she went through the same ritual most women did during those days - she asked her husband’s permission to work outside the home.
“They were all pretty much in high school except my youngest, who was going into high school. When the paper offered me the position. I asked my husband and he said, ‘You can go, but be sure you have Dan’s (their youngest) breakfast on the table’.” Then Jeannette looks at me both apologetically and conspiratorially at the same time and adds knowingly, “And a woman would never do this now!”
No experience as a writer, no degree in journalism—
“I won an English award in high school…. Like I’m talking is how I wrote. It was something that flowed out onto paper, which is I guess good.”
Jordan’s start as a reporter for The Saratogian was fifty-percent guts and fifty-percent “right time, right place.” Above that, she proved herself daily.
“It was to replace someone for six weeks while they had an operation and she decided not to come back, so they asked me if I wanted to work part time. I don’t know if I was the aggressive type or not (apparently, I was) because I was always volunteering for something and I had never done a story in my life and I just decided I would go. I had more nerve. That’s how it all came about and before it was over I was head of the features department and had two people working for me.”
Far from a society event, Jordan’s first assignment for The Saratogian was a simple town meeting but for Jordan an experience that gave her room to learn and grow.
“They needed a reporter to go to a meeting and I just went and covered it and wrote it and I wrote 75 inches, which is horrible, but I learned fast. They said you must learn not to tell every little inkling. I learned that and I was very fortunate because someone left and they offered it to me and I ended up being head of the department.”
Jordan went on to become the society reporter, the role in which we know her best, in the same way she volunteered for her first writing assignment.
“They used to have a woman that would do it for the race season and write about who was there. She died nine days before the race season and my managing editor said, ‘What are we gonna do?’ and I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ And she said, ‘We’ll rotate,’ and I said, ‘If I’m going to do it I won’t rotate. I’m gonna do it.’ That’s how it began and I wrote for many years and continued after I retired and did a few columns until I was 73 years old… then it got to be too much.”
“Jeannette is as genuine as they come, without a pretentious bone in her body,” said Barbara Lombardo, former executive editor of The Saratogian, who counts herself not just as one of Jeannette’s bosses, but as a friend.
Tony Bennett, David Cassidy, Susan Lucci… if they were at the Saratoga Race track during Jordan’s tenure, chances were, she found them and charmed them into an interview. Even our now-president, Donald Trump, stopped for an interview with Jeannette Jordan. She applauds him for being a gentleman.
“He came to Saratoga to look at property. He was invited to Marylou’s gala. He was at the Casino. I was writing her gala up too, so I got in line to see him and ask him a few questions. The AP (Associated Press) people walked in and almost knocked me over to try to get past me. (Donald Trump) saw that and yelled at them and said, ‘This woman was ahead of you, stand back’.”
Now 84-years old, Jeannette Jordan is long retired from The Saratogian, but still very social, still writing… and her career may not be over just yet.
“They have a paper here (at Prestwick Chase) and want me to head it, but because of some of my health issues…
I said maybe I could just write a column like I did Inside Saratoga (for The Saratogian.) It comes out once a month and is read by everyone.
So, I’m thinking about writing Inside Prestwick. I think people would really enjoy it.”
“People trust her and naturally open up to her, to this day,” Lombardo said. “As a journalist, Jeannette was liked and respected by her colleagues in the newsroom, the people she wrote about and her loyal readers.”
Yes, I think “people” most certainly would enjoy her new column.