Longtime DMN staffer witnessed JFK assassination


by By JOE SIMNACHER / The Dallas Morning News


Posted on October 27, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 12:05 PM

Ann Donaldson Atterberry had no regrets at the end of her 72-year life, 35 years of which she spent at The Dallas Morning News.

Her life story included a brush with history during her lunch break on Nov. 22, 1963, when she was an eyewitness to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Ms. Atterberry died Friday at Medical Center of Plano of complications from bladder cancer.

Services will be at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Dallas, where her ashes will be placed in the columbarium.

Ms. Atterberry was a dedicated and versatile employee who had a wealth of experience, said former co-worker Carolyn Barta, now senior journalism lecturer at Southern Methodist University.

"She was such a Southern lady," Ms. Barta said. "She was a tough reporter and editor, but always very dignified and genteel."

Ms. Atterberry was born in Jackson, Miss. She knew she wanted to be a journalist when she was in the seventh grade but had to convince her psychiatrist father that it was a suitable career for a woman. She won her father's permission to enter journalism by scoring low on a teaching aptitude test.

She graduated from Central High School in Jackson in 1955 and received a bachelor's degree in journalism from Louisiana State University in 1959.

As she had promised her mother, she worked for a year at the Jackson Daily News before setting off on her own.Ms. Atterberry joined The News in September 1960 as a reporter for the newspaper's society and women's pages. She covered events such as the opening of the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas.

"They had elephants march through the ballroom; it was quite a show," she said during a recent interview.

The day of the assassination, Ms. Atterberry and three newsroom friends not assigned to cover the presidential visit went on their lunch breaks to see the first lady.

"We wanted to see Jackie," she said.

Ms. Atterberry had already met Mr. Kennedy and shook his hand at a previous Dallas campaign visit.

The women were at the end of the parade route, where they could eat their lunch of sandwiches and apples while awaiting the motorcade.

They had their backs to the Texas School Book Depository, and they were near the Stemmons Freeway sign - right in front of Abraham Zapruder, famous for his recording of the assassination on his home-movie camera.

"In the first two frames of Zapruder's film, the four of us show," she said recently.

Ms. Atterberry said she looked up at the crack of the first rifle shot.

"I thought it was fireworks," she said. "I thought that was really rude and socially unacceptable. I was looking to see where the noise came from.

"I heard two more shots and looked around, and the motorcade was speeding away."

The friends cried all the way back to the newspaper, several blocks away.

Ms. Atterberry was promoted to society editor at The News before she moved to Austin in 1970, when Texas Instruments transferred her husband to Central Texas.

The society editor suddenly found herself covering education issues and some politics as a member of the newspaper's Austin bureau. Her interviews included one with atheist activist Madalyn Murray O'Hair.

Ms. Atterberry left The News when her husband was transferred in 1973 to Amsterdam. She learned to speak some Dutch there.

After about 18 months in the Netherlands, Mr. and Ms. Atterberry returned to Austin, where she sold real estate.

She rejoined The News in 1976, when her husband was transferred back to Dallas. She worked on the city and state desks until she took a position in the newspaper's reference library. She retired in 1999.

Ms. Atterberry was a member of the Church of the Transfiguration, where her activities included serving on the Altar Guild.

She learned she had bladder cancer on Dec. 26, 2007. The cancer was treated, but she learned during a routine medical visit in June that the disease had returned and metastasized.

"We've been going strong and partying ever since," she said two weeks ago.

"She knew that her illness was terminal," Ms. Barta said. "I was impressed with the cheerfulness and optimism with which she faced what she knew was coming."

Ms. Atterberry is survived by her husband, Philip Atterberry of Plano, and a brother, Dr. Harold Donaldson of Jackson.

Memorials may be made to the Building Fund at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, the American Cancer Society, the Nature Conservancy, the Audubon Society or a charity of choice.