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Nina J. McCain

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When The Boston Globe first installed suitcase-sized computer terminals in its newsroom in the 1970s, Nina J. McCain threatened to bolt her typewriter to the desk. She was stubborn that way. Her resistance was less about fear of change than respect for tradition. The manual Underwood on which Ms. McCain documented campus unrest during the Vietnam War, street violence during the integration of the Boston public schools, and protest marches during the women's rights movement continued to sit alongside a succession of ever-evolving computers until signs of Alzheimer's disease prompted her early retirement in 1990. Ms. McCain, whose reporting on the school busing crisis contributed to the newspaper's Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1975, succumbed to Alzheimer's Tuesday, November 19 at The Falls in Newton Lower Falls. She was 76 and had been a longtime resident of Wellesley and Center Sandwich, NH. A 1959 graduate of the University of Texas in Austin, Ms. McCain came to Boston in 1968 fresh from Stanford University where she had landed a coveted John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship after newspaper strikes shuttered four of New York City's seven newspapers, many of which had employed Ms. McCain. "I began to feel like the angel of death," she once said, recalling the closure, soon after her arrival, of her last newspaper in that city, The New York World-Telegram & Sun. Her tenure at The Boston Globe proved more enduring. She reported for the newspaper for more than 20 years, winning awards for her coverage of education, civil rights and the justice system. At the University of Texas, Ms. McCain majored in journalism, landing a job at The Dallas Morning News after graduation. But it was also at UT that she developed her lifelong interest in education while working as a teaching assistant in a Philosophy of Education course taught by a young John R. Silber. "His philosophy course very quickly became the "in" course for the "brains." Nina was his grader," recalled Martha Jacoby, a UT classmate of Ms. McCain. "He is said to have remarked that she was his only undergraduate grader, and she was the best. Not bad from a man such as he." The professor and his assistant would meet again years later when he became the combative president of Boston University and she was The Boston Globe reporter assigned to cover his hiring and the subsequent faculty revolt against his autocratic style. "There were two sides to John Silber," Ms. McCain once said. "Boston only got to see the dark side." Richard Knox, a former Globe colleague of Ms. McCain's who now reports for National Public Radio, noted that "While Nina covered the big-headline stories on education politics and controversies, you could also count on her for thoughtful reports on what was happening inside classrooms. In her time I think she was one of the best newspaper specialists on education in America." Her legacy includes a cadre of younger women she nurtured in The Globe's newsroom. Bella English, a reporter and columnist for the newspaper since 1985, recalled Ms. McCain welcoming her to Boston and to The Globe. "She took me under her wing. She always found room for me at the big round table in the cafeteria. Nina was so generous with her time and wisdom. She really cared about the next generation of female journalists," she said. Eileen McNamara, a former Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the newspaper who teaches now at Brandeis University, was a newsroom secretary when she met Ms. McCain. "I owe my career to the fact that Nina McCain and Muriel Cohen sat behind me," she said of the two women who covered education in a newsroom then dominated by men. "Nina didn't just write about feminism; she lived it. Whether she was helping women advance in their careers or scrubbing pots at the Women's Lunch Place downtown to help homeless women, Nina McCain practiced what she preached." Born in St. Louis, Missouri the only child of Fred and Mildred McCain was christened Nina June to commemorate the day of her birth, June 9, 1937. It was a gesture that forced her to spend a lifetime correcting the pronunciation of her first name - long vowel "i" not short. She grew up in east Texas, graduating as salutatorian from Longview High School, riding horses and target shooting with her father in the heart of bluebonnet country. Before her disease advanced, she had the chance to return one spring to see again the Texas state wildflower in bloom. In the early years of her retirement, Ms. McCain devoted her time to the other major interest in her life, horses. In addition to caring for her own horse, Kelly, she spent years as a volunteer at Windrush Farm in a program of therapeutic riding for handicapped children and adults. Beloved as "Auntie Nina" by the sons and daughters of her many friends, she played the same role to children who grew up in the Wellesley cul de sac where she lived for more than 30 years. Ms. McCain leaves no immediate family. A memorial celebration of her life will be held on December 11 at 11 a.m. at the Wellesley Friends Meeting House, 26 Benvenue Street, Wellesley, MA. Memorial contributions on her behalf may be made to Good Shepherd Community Care Hospice, 90 Wells Avenue, Newton, MA 02459 OR Boston University Alzheimer's Disease Center, 72 E. Concord Street-B7800, Boston, MA 02118.

Published in The Wellesley Townsman from Nov. 23 to Nov. 30, 2013
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