One evening, when I was in my teen years, my parents and I went to see a movie at the Avalon Theater in Chevy Chase, D.C. I have no recollection of what film it was, but I recall standing in the box office line a few patrons behind Roger Mudd and the lady I later learned was his wife, E.J. That night I thought nearly everyone in line was whispering, “He’s Roger Mudd.” Except on television, I did not see him again until many years later when he and E.J. established a second home in the Northern Neck.
Initially, the Mudds bought a condo on The Green at the Tides Lodge, and later they purchased the historic “Pop Castle” overlooking the Rappahannock River from a bluff in White Stone. After we became acquainted, I told him about the evening at the Avalon, which of course he did not recall, but indicated that level of attention had happened many times over the long course of his career.
In the Northern Neck, Roger was not a casual come-here. He became actively involved in the community, lending his name and his presence to promoting our area. He was a native Washingtonian, a graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School, who went on to major in history at Washington and Lee University, and to earn a master’s in history at the University of North Carolina. Here, with his history background, he was enthusiastic in promoting Christ Church, recording the video that describes the church’s evolution over three centuries, and often visiting the site.
His professional career began in Richmond when he took a position in 1953 at the News-Leader, the reliable evening newspaper. He arrived the day after Douglas Southall Freeman, the paper’s legendary editor, and famous historian, had died. After three years, he moved on to WTOP in Washington to begin his lengthy career in broadcast journalism.
In his late 70s, he summed up that span in his autobiography, The Place to Be, Washington, CBS, And the Glory Days of Television News. Since his death last week, I have been revisiting the book, reading from my autographed copy.
Roger had a penchant for giving people nicknames. In my case, one day in his home, I remarked about a lovely demilune card table I saw in the living room. He asked me what I meant by “demilune.” I replied that the term stood for “half-moon,” indicating that when open, the top formed a circle, but closed it was a half-circle or half-moon. He wanted to know why I did not call it a “half-moon” table. Long thereafter when he sent me the book, I opened it to read the inscription: “To Henry Lane Hull, My Man in the Half-Moon,” and thus I remained in his vocabulary with my own personalized nickname.
Of particular interest to Northern Neck readers, early in the book Roger describes the late Isabel Gough, the redoubtable “stringer” who reported to the News-Leader on all matters relating to the Northern Neck from her home in Ditchley. He explains that a stringer was a reporter who covered an area for a “string” of newspapers. Isabel would be pleased by the recognition, but she would not be happy that he used the erroneous idiom, “on the Northern Neck,” in lieu of the correct “in the Northern Neck.”
Roger was a generous philanthropist, giving both of his time and talent to causes he supported. He donated $4 million to his alma mater, Washington and Lee, to set up a center to study professional ethics, along with an endowed professorship in the field. He lived in an historic house in McLean which he and E.J. carefully preserved and conserved.
The Northern Neck provided a wonderful escape for Roger and E.J. They delighted in coming here, leaving behind the pressures of their daily lives in Washington and Northern Virginia. They accepted folks saying, “There’s Roger Mudd,” and were happy to be part of the local scene. E.J. died 10 years ago, and thereafter Roger sold his home at The Green, but still kept his Northern Neck interests alive and well. He did much for our community, as he had done much for our country. In journalism, he was unparalleled, a beacon of honesty and integrity. Would that more of today’s members of the news media would follow his example.
Roger Harrison Mudd, February 9, 1928 – March 9, 2021. R.I.P.