Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Honored March, 1987

John Hightower

John Hightower came to Santa Fe late in life, bringing his global reputation as a journalist. As a reporter for the Associated Press wire service, he covered all the major events of the post World War II era:

the founding of the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, the Japanese Peace conference, the North Atlantic Treaty negotiations, the Kennedy-Khruschev summit of 1961. Not bad for a coal miner's son from Tennessee. But no one who knew him was surprised at his trajectory.

Born in 1909 in Coal Creek, Tennessee, John attended Knoxville public schools and the University of Tennesee. He left after two years to work as a reporter for the Knoxville News Sentinel. At the Associated Press in Nashville, from 1933, he was quickly promoted to Tennessee state editor. In 1936 his coverage of Democratic and Republican national conventions caught the attention of the Washington AP Bureau Chief, who brought the young newsman to Washington. John became known for in depth, explanatory-interpretive reporting.

At the height of the Korean War in 1952, John won the Pulitzer Prize (and two other major awards) for "the sustained quality of his coverage of news of international affairs." The Pulitzer committee praised in particular John's prescient coverage of events that led President Truman to remove General Douglas MacArthur, from command in Korea. MacArthur was ready to expand the war into Communist China. Truman was not. Hightower's reporting reassured readers the country was not on the brink of World War III.

In 1938 John married Martha Nadine Joiner, of New York City. They were married forty one years and had three children.

The journalist's first Santa Fe connection was anthropologist Edward Hall, who got to know the Hightowers while working for the State Department in Washington in the 1950s. They became close friends. "John knew and was consulted by all the Secretaries of State and was trusted clear up to the president," Hall recalls. "He was unusually intelligent, perceptive and modest. He was conscientious and consistent. He had a tremendous reputation among news people for being completely trustworthy. He was highly dedicated to his work there wasn't anything else in his life, really."

Please see Volume 1 for complete text.
Photo ©1997 by Joanne Rijmes