Remembering Marie Giffin -June 2008
Inquirer and Mirror Publisher 1970-1990
Whether in her office at The Inquirer and Mirror or on stage at Straight Wharf Theatre, Marie Giffin wasa commanding presence.
Mrs. Giffin, who died April 28 at 77 after a long illness, was owner and publisher of the I&M for 20 years, from 1970-1990, guiding the venerable paper through a period of unprecedented change in both the media industry and the island.
Socially progressive under her leadership, the I&M was an early advocate of zoning, conservation and limits on building. Marie and her husband Tom were lone voices in the early support of Senator Ted Kennedy’s Nantucket Sound Islands Trust Bill, which had provisions that placed controls on building and set aside scenic preservation lands. Not surprisingly, they also supported the Land Bank in its early stages and opposed efforts to create offshore oil drilling opportunities, being early advocates of environmental protection for the island.
Marie was a supporter of the rights of young people, and when the Selectmen proposed “anti-hippie bylaws” in the 1970s, she spoke up for those promoting alternative lifestyles. She was an advocate of the public process, and took the Board of Selectmen to court in the 1970s for violating the Open Meeting Law, and won. She was never shy about stating her opinion, even when it was unpopular.
During much of her time at the paper, the trained mezzo-soprano was equally visible on stage in productions ranging from “Brigadoon” to “Born Yesterday,” having discovered the Straight Wharf Theatre and its charismatic director Mac Dixon a few years after her arrival on Nantucket with her husband, an island native.
With Dixon’s encouragement, she became involved in all aspects of the theater. If she wasn’t acting, she was working behind the scenes, as a prompter or inproperties or wardrobe. She got her husband involved, on stage and off, and they brought their children Marianne and Jamie to rehearsals, where they watched and fell asleep in the balcony of the old theater. Straight Wharf Theatre was a magical place then under Dixon, and played an important role in the lives of Marie and her family. Her first appearance at Straight Wharf was in “The Mikado” in 1959, as one of the “Three Little Maids” with Ruth-AnnFlanagan and the late Rose Ryder. She loved acting in musicals and had a flair for comedy. Her appearance as Meg Brockie in “Brigadoon” and Billie Dawn in “Born Yesterday” were memorable, as was her work in “She Stoops to Conquer,” with the late Roger Young, and in “Blithe Spirit.” Her last work in the theater was in the1980s when she appeared in “Ahmal and the NightVisitors” with her granddaughter Andrea.
She moved to Nantucket in 1951 after marrying Tom Giffin, a 12th generation Nantucketer who traced his roots back to Tristram Coffin, Peter Foulger and the original settlers. Marie could claim the famous lawyer Clarence Darrow, from the Scopes Monkey Trial, as one of her relatives.Florence M. “Marie” Giffin was born March 13, 1931 to Kenneth and Wilmeth (Murray) Ritchie in Hillview, Illinois, a small farming town in the south-central part ofthe state. A child of the Great Depression, she learned early the values of thrift and hard work, and what it was like to be surrounded by a large extended family.
She worked summers for the Steamship Authority as aticket agent and later worked for Sam and Marion Garrison as a travel agent at Garrison’s Travel Bureau,then located on Federal Street where Johnston’s Cashmere now sits.
In 1962, she went to work for The Inquirer and Mirroras a receptionist, working alongside Kay Ayotte in the offices on Orange Street. Eight years later she’d end up owning the place.
The newspaper business was very different then. It was a man’s profession, with 95 percent of the work taking place in the backshop where Linotype operators, composers and pressmen put together the paper and printed it. It was a challenging environment for a woman, but Marie handled it with hardwork and determination. She saw the newspaper change from the old-fashioned “hot lead” process to offset printing, and was part of the move of the newspaper from the Folger Block on Orange Street in 1963 to its present location at the Milestone Rotary.
During her tenure as publisher, Marie saw unprecedented growth in the island and the newspaper, which went from an eight-page broadsheet, published on Friday, to a 96-page newspaper, with a hefty base of real estate advertising. At the newspaper, she was very hands-on, managing all departments,running the business side, and even collating and delivering newspapers when needed.She was recognized as a tireless worker with a bright mind, and advanced quickly from “office girl” to advertising manager,during which time she won many awards from the New England Press Association for her creative advertising campaigns for the Island Service Company, among others.Then-publisher of The Inquirer and Mirror, George W. Morgan, eventually named her general manager, the first woman to hold that position in the newspaper’s storied history. When Morgan died, she and her husband bought the newspaper along with investors Albert “Bud” Egan and his longtime friend, George Snell, who ultimately sold their shares to the Giffins.
Her interest in the community extended to the school system and under her and her husband’s leadership of The Inquirer andMirror, the newspaper became an advocateof excellence in school sports, running expanded coverage of all sporting events, particularly football. Monday mornings during the season, Coach Vito Capizzo would routinely stop by the publisher’soffice, pour himself a cup of coffee, and sit down with “Florence Nightingale,” or “Mother,” as he affectionately called her, to hash out Saturday’s game.
On March 14, 1990, she and he husband sold The Inquirer and Mirror to Ottaway Newspapers and retired. Her daughter, Marianne Stanton, succeeded her in running the newspaper as editor and publisher and growing the business five-fold over the next18 years. It was something Marie was proud of to the end.