Longtime News Service Editor Helen Woodman Harrington Dies

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2017/01/27/39108/

STATE HOUSE – Helen Woodman Harrington, who epitomized the values of even-handedness and integrity the State House News Service still strives to uphold, died Monday at her beloved home in North Conway, N.H. She was 74.

Woodman hired, trained and more importantly inspired more than a generation of reporters, who carried her lessons as they traveled far and wide in the business and beyond. The many reporters who were fortunate enough to work with her in Boston over the years formed an extended journalism family and complemented the love of her life, her late husband Bill Harrington, himself an accomplished reporter for WCVB-TV.

Her low-key demeanor, patience and gentle humor caused everyone who worked with her to think a little more about what they were doing and enjoy it more as well. It made her universally respected and often loved by the politicians, staffers and journalists with whom she dealt, and there were thousands. She believed in giving every side of a story a fair chance, every person a fair shake, and every issue thoughtful treatment.

Her anger was quiet too, and she was slow to express it, but also unafraid. She did not like bullies or blowhards or public officials who were in it only for themselves. On the other hand, she did not at all care for the simple-minded assumption on the part of too many journalists that all politicians were crooked, or more tellingly, that their less savory aspects were their only aspects. As the business grew increasingly dumbed-down and hasty to assume the worst, she counseled her reporters to understand the complexity of everyone’s character, and she was unashamed at seeking to find the good in people.

She had a tremendous sense of humor and never stopped her staffers from having a good time, and they in turn matched her endless capacity for long hours and hard work. Her passions were uncomplicated and robust: she adored her White Mountains home, Poolside, and following its natural rythyms season to season. She loved having her nieces and nephews and their kids there. She loved golfing at the North Conway Country Club. She and Bill were the kind of people who carried cards with his preferred Manhattan mixing procedure.

And while the “little devils,” as she was known to call lawmakers, drove her crazy, she always had a compulsion for understanding and explaining what was really driving legislative decisions and the people who made them. She did a better job of that than most reporters, because so many people trusted her so completely.

Woodman (her byline) began her career working for New England News Service, owned by her father Arthur Woodman, in 1962. In 1972 she left for Washington to serve in the press office of Peace Corps. When the former owner of the State House News Service, Paul Ryan, grew sick in 1979, he asked Helen if she would be interested in coming back to Boston and buying it from him. It was the most eloquent mark possible of the regard in which she was held. She accepted.

She guided, improved and expanded the News Service and its coverage through the 1980s and 1990s, leaving an indelible mark on the journalism of her time and beyond. She sold the Service in 1996 to Affiliated News Services of Wellesley, a partnership of Stephen Cummings, Russel Pergament and Craig Sandler, whom she hired and trained in 1988. ANS still owns the Service. Helen also hired and worked for many years with the Service’s longtime editor, Michael Norton.

Visiting hours followed by a s hort memorial service will be held Thursday, Feb. 9 from 4-7 p.m. at the Beals-Geake-Magliozzi Funeral Home in Medford.

— Written by Craig Sandler and Michael Norton