In Praise of Sandra Burton

Jill Abramson fondly remembers her first boss.

By way of author and Huffington Post blogger Tabby Biddle comes a warm memory of Sandra Burton.

Burton was one of Time magazine’s first female correspondents. She started at the publication in 1964 as a secretary, rising to LA correspondent in 1970, Boston bureau chief in 1973, Paris correspondent in 1977, Hong Kong bureau chief in 1982 and Beijing bureau chief in 1989. She passed away in 2004.

Burton was also Jill Abramson‘s first boss, and as Abramson told Biddle during a recent interview, it turned out to be something of a bittersweet career starting point:

“She was fantastic and was incredibly encouraging to me at the very dawn of my working life,” said Jill. “I thought, ‘Ohhhh, the working world is so welcoming to women.’ And of course I never worked for another woman again,” Jill said with a laugh, and for good reason.

At the time of Burton’s death, Hong Kong journalist Philip Bowring was also full of praise:

One might have expected someone who was aggressive and bitchy, competing with the gung-ho, hard-swearers and heavy-drinkers around her – particularly in her earlier reporting days when she was a female rarity in the sometimes aggressively masculine world of foreign correspondents. Or, alternatively, she might have been expected to exploit gender to the full. But she was none of these.

She was extraordinarily courteous, fair-minded and intellectually honest. She was sociable and warm without being obtrusive or showy, always interested in people around her, always keen to learn new things and discuss new ideas. She worked extraordinarily hard, driven not so much by ambition but by a need to be meticulous, accurate and fair. She thought well of almost everyone and it was no chance that she chose as her companion of 20 years another equally intelligent, kind and conscientious person, journalist and consultant and scholar, Robert Delfs.

In 2011, a Nieman Fellowship supporting Filipino journalists was launched in Burton’s name. The two recipients so far have been Philippine Daily Inquirer senior editor John Nery and Sun.Star group newspapers new media editor Maria Lourdes Cabaero.