Helen Chappell - November 2006

Appreciation: John Goodspeed


Helen Chappell

     We at Tidewater Times were saddened to learn of the death of our good friend and colleague John Goodspeed on September 10. The old Baltimore Sun hand went to the great newsroom in the sky after a short illness. As book reviewer for this magazine and the Easton, MD, Star-Democrat, the local paper, he had the wit and talent to take even the dullest books and make reading about them more interesting. There will never be anyone else quite like John, and we will miss him. Our sympathy and our thoughts are with his wife, the writer Anne Stinson, and their families.
      John crammed a lot of living into his 80-some years. He was a wonderful storyteller who had spent most of his professional life writing for the Evening Sun back in the day when that newspaper was a two a day, and reporters and their writing were expected to be colorful, literate and exciting. Baltimore was one of John’s great loves, and that Texas-born boy could tell stories of the city and the newsrooms in those years when journalism still had some meaning and reporters pounded a manual typewriter. He could make you think it was like The Front Page, and maybe it was.
      Another great love of John’s was jazz. He was a great friend of the legendary Ethel Ennis and her husband, and a fantastic piano player in his own right.
      But I think the greatest love of his life was his last wife, Anne Stinson. Right up to the very end of his life, John was an incredibly handsome man, and I’m sure he never had any trouble attracting the ladies. Both he and Anne had been married before, but their union was something special. It was one of the happiest unions I’ve ever seen. They weren’t just spouses; they were each other’s best friends. And for those who were fortunate enough to share their friendship, they brought their gifts of joie de vivre, intellectual and cultural pursuits and just a great sense of fun.
      This writer is fortunate enough to be one of their friends, and to have enjoyed their hospitality. They were generous hosts and wonderful company.
      An evening with Anne and John would mean that you arrived and were greeted with great enthusiasm and a drink of your choice. Something delicious would always be cooking, and the house, wherever it happened to be at the time, would be filled with heavenly smells.
      You would settle down with your drink, and the conversation would start. Real conversation, stimulating ideas, discussions about writing and reading, real ideas. Anne and John ran the best salon on the Eastern Shore. They wouldn’t know how to be dull. Toss in a soupçon about mutual friends here and at the Sun, and by the second drink, you’d feel embraced by their wit and warmth. For me, the company of fellow writers was like ice water in the desert; people who knew and understood what you were talking about, and you understood what they were talking about.
      John would fix himself and Anne and you another drink, then he’d tell one of his stories about the old days at the Evening Sun, his childhood as a doctor’s son in a tough Texas town, or describe some character he’d stumbled upon in his long career as a journalist. He was a marvelous raconteur who could hold you spellbound for hours. Since he and Anne had been instrumental in getting my column into the morning Sun, we both knew a lot of the same people, but John knew them from back in the day when big city papers were exciting and the main source of news. He was also a very shrewd editor; I learned a lot from him about the craft of writing.
      There would be talk about books and authors, and a tour of Anne’s gardens. Sometimes on nice days we would sit outside and enjoy the beauty Anne creates all around herself.
      The thoughts and ideas would fly over some delicious dinner, too.
      Anne is a master cook and the best hostess ever. You could see, just by the way they talked to each other, how much in love they were. And they knew how fortunate they were to be together and treasured it.
      After dinner, the fun would start. John would pretend to have to be coaxed to sit down at his grand piano and play. You could tell, though, that he really loved it. Rain or shine, company or not, John would sit down at the bench and play “Summertime,” while Anne took up her gut bucket bass and caught the rhythm section. Then they would sing together, all kinds of classic songs from Cole Porter and Fats Waller. And after a while, you would find yourself singing along too. Just having a grand old time.
      Then it was time for Jeopardy! and all activity would cease as we tried to outguess the contestants. I must say, between the three of us, we were pretty good.
Whatever my misfortunes in life, I’ve always felt that I’ve been extremely fortunate to have the friends I’ve made over the years. I feel especially lucky to have Anne and John in my life. John may not be here and now anymore, but it’s so good to have had him in my life as a friend, a mentor, a supporter of my writing and the husband of my dear friend Anne. John Goodspeed made a difference, and I will treasure that experience forever.
      Until we meet again, Johnny Boy, until we meet again, thanks for everything.