Redonia "Donnie" Radcliffe 80 ; Biographer of first ladies, lecturer February 19, 2010

Donnie Radcliffe, 80, a Washington Post journalist who chronicled first ladies and high society from the Watergate era to the Clinton administration, died Feb. 19 at her home in South Acworth, N.H. She had lung, thyroid and adrenal cancer, her son said.

Mrs. Radcliffe joined The Post in 1972 and rose to cover the White House, one of the top assignments at a newspaper, at a time when many male editors did not take female reporters seriously. She advanced her career by writing news stories that, in the hands of some other writers, would have arrived on Washington doorsteps as soft features.  During her 22-year career at The Post, Mrs. Radcliffe covered six White Houses and wrote biographies of first ladies Barbara Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Bob Woodward, the Post reporter who with Carl Bernstein uncovered the Watergate scandal, called Mrs. Radcliffe a "pick-and-shovel reporter -- always digging. That's the biggest compliment I can give someone, a pick-and-shovel reporter."

He added that Mrs. Radcliffe used her contacts to set up interviews "with lots of Nixon people" to help him and Bernstein.

Mrs. Radcliffe did some of her most memorable reporting during the Reagan White House of the 1980s. From Washington, she wrote about the thousands of dollars in borrowed designer clothes that first lady Nancy Reagan accepted after promising to halt the practice. From Moscow, she reported on the "smoldering rivalry" between the first lady and Raisa Gorbachev.

Redonia LaRae Wheeler, whose mother was a reporter, was born July 13, 1929, in Republican City, Neb. She graduated from San Jose State College in 1951, majoring in journalism, and got her first newspaper job in Salinas, Calif.

Her first marriage, to Melvin J. Nunes, ended in divorce. In 1957, she married Robert Radcliffe, also a journalist, and they struck out for Europe with her son from her first marriage. Mrs. Radcliffe worked as a freelancer as the family moved to Vienna, Frankfurt and Paris over five years. They settled in the Washington area in the mid-1960s, and Mrs. Radcliffe worked at the Washington Star before joining The Post.

She was remembered by colleagues for more than her savvy reportage. She was also a talented seamstress and made many of the gowns she wore to the soirees and other elegant affairs she covered.

"She was always very elegant in a preppy sort of way," said Diana McLellan, who worked with Mrs. Radcliffe at the Star and then at The Post. "She was the most appropriate dresser. Covering the White House, she fit in totally, always."

Full Story:

Donnie Radcliffe, journalist, lecturer and author of biographies about Barbara Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton, covered every First Lady from Pat Nixon to and including Hillary Clinton in the 28 years she was a reporter in Washington, D.C. She began her newspaper career in California and spent seven years in Europe writing for U.S. magazines and newspapers including The New York Times. When she moved to Washington she was assigned to cover Pat Nixon when Richard Nixon became president by the now-defunct Washington Star. She joined the Washington Post in 1972 where she was a reporter, editor and columnist for the Style section until she retired in 1995. She is listed in "Who's Who."

** We are still waiting to find a Guestbook to leave condolences on

Attribution:, Emily Langer - Washington Post Staff Writer,

"I apologize for this impersonal note, but I wanted all those for whom I had email addresses who knew Donnie and her family to know she passed away today at 12:34 p.m.  Donnie had battled Alzheimer's and then three cancers for almost a decade.  She managed to outlive her doctors' best guesses as to her longevity, dying in her own bed in her own home here in New England with her family which had cared for her for almost six years at her side.

Donnie was a child of the Depression who spent close to ten years as a young girl traveling the country with her mom and dad as they sought work. She died 70 years later the author of two biographies of First Ladies, editor/writer emerita of The Washington Post where she covered every First Lady for The Post from Lady Bird to Hillary. It was a remarkable run.

She is survived by me, her only child, my wife, Bobbe, and three grandchildren, Jennifer Zoga, of Philadelphia, Donnel Nunes, of Kailua, HI, and Hadley Nunes, of Brooklyn, NY, plus two great grandchildren, Olivia and Helena Zoga, all of whom knew her simply as "Doba". Bob, her second husband, died in 2004.  We plan to scatter her ashes on a knoll high on her farm here and are discussing the possibility and practicality of holding a memorial at some point in the near future."

Thank you,
Don Nunes (her son) and family

1 comment:

  1. Oh I just saw this and am so very sad to learn of Donnie's passing. I worked with her at the National Symphony in the mid-1960s and she was my dearest friend. She and Bob were so supportive when we moved to the DC area in the early 70s with a child. I will miss her so much and cannot believe she is gone.
    Martha (Marty) Gage Elton, Leawood, Kansas