At 100, Ethel Bradford still writes about life outside her window
Oct 03, 2017 05:02PM
● By Shaun Delliskave
Centenarian Ethel Bradford reflects on 70 years’ worth of columns. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)
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Just by looking at her, you’d swear she isn’t a day over 70. Certainly, you’d expect her to be retired, but for 100-year-old journalist and columnist Ethel Ohlin Bradford, every day is another chance to write a new column.
Many long-time denizens of Murray and central Salt Lake Valley still remember Ethel’s column, “Out My Window,” published in the now-defunct Murray Eagle and Green Sheet. Now, the centenarian publishes a blog by the same name. Her feisty style has not diminished over 70-plus years of writing; her recent column titled “Sex in Spaaaaace” picked up on a theme she wrote about nearly 30 years ago.
Born April 16, 1917 in Murray, she still lives less than a few miles from her childhood home. Her childhood memories are vivid. She recalls the open stretches of farmland and wild spaces that made Murray seem like a remote part of Salt Lake County. She remembers the moment in elementary school that kicked off her writing career. The teacher instructed her class to write simple one-line sentences starting with the letter A and going down the alphabet to Z. Ethel rebelled and wrote a flowing essay that connected all the sentences. Her teacher gave her assignment a bad grade, but Ethel said, “I knew I got the writing bug back then. I knew I had it.”
Her career as a journalist began with wanting to do something more fulfilling than her job handling Mountain Bell’s payroll in the 1940s, so her husband urged her to head to the local newspaper that was looking for writers. She was assigned to write wedding announcements with no formal training.
“I cheated,” she laughed. “I copied the articles on the Salt Lake Tribune’s society page and just changed the names.” From her inglorious start, she picked up the skills to take on bigger assignments.
When Murray Eagle publisher Jim Cornwell’s sister-in-law decided to give up her weekly column, “Out My Window,” he approached Ethel about picking it up. She has had it ever since.
“The writing came easy to me,” she said. “I remembered that experience back in the third grade and had the feel of the flow of words.”
The popularity of her column grew, even though the paper initially attributed the column to the pseudonym of “Trudy.” Eventually, people were pressuring Cornwell to reveal who Trudy was, and after an acrimonious meeting at the local rotary club to credit the true writer, Cornwell caved and Ethel’s name graced the byline. As the spread of the Murray Eagle went beyond the boundaries of Murray, it morphed into the Green Sheet—with its distinctive green broadsheets—and her column became a front page regular.
One time while waiting at her bank, a man identified her from her picture that accompanied the column and approached her. Unsure whether she was about to endure an argument, she acknowledged that it was her. She recalls the man’s eyes welled with tears and he thanked her for writing a column that he always carried in his wallet.
About that incident, she didn’t ask which column touched him, as it was too personal, but recalls saying to herself, “Thank you God.”
In addition to her column, she reported hard news. One event that still haunts her was covering an execution that she volunteered to witness. “I wanted to see what happened to that man,” she said. “It was murder killing a murderer.”
She recalls watching the prisoner being administered a lethal injection and watching the supervising physician getting alarmed when he still detected vital signs and the warden calling for a second injection to be rushed in to finish the task. She recalls being appalled at the lapse of journalistic ethics as a television reporter pressed his ear against the wall to hear what the reaction might be from the condemned man’s family sitting in the adjacent room.
After the Green Sheet folded in the early 2000s, Ethel still produced her column independently. With the help of her sons, John and Bill, she publishes her column on her blog. The wall surrounding her computer is bedecked with photos of not only family but fellow newspaper colleagues and past columns—the paper’s green hue faded with age.
Over the years, the former president of the Utah Press Women association received local and national accolades for her newspaper work, but the most endearing recognition she recounts is when people have told her that they cut out one of her columns to save. While she could have retired with the paper’s end, she has gone on to publish numerous books elaborating on her columns or recalling stories of a bygone era that used to happen in front of her windows.
Ethel Bradford’s online blog can be found at http://www.fromoutmywindow.com/.