Vermont Connecticut Royster (April 30, 1914 - July 22, 1996) was an American journalist whose career at The Wall Street Journal spanned half a century. During the time that he served as editor its circulation greatly increased. The paper also became respected both in the United States and around the world not just for its financial news and analyses but also for its editorials and opinion page articles on diverse topics ranging from politics to the arts. Royster won two Pulitzer Prizes for his writing, and numerous other awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Royster was no ordinary journalist, he studied literature and classical languages—Latin and Greek—and his writings reflected these influences. He tackled the issues that affected people in their everyday lives with thoughtful insight, touching on the essentials of life. He had an unfailing faith in the American people and in the greatness of the United States as a country blessed by God. His Christmas and Thanksgiving editorials, reprinted every year since Royster wrote them, continue to resonate with people's desires for freedom, peace, and prosperity in a world filled with challenges.
Vermont Connecticut Royster was born on April 30, 1914, in his grandfather's house in Raleigh, North Carolina, the first child of Wilbur High and Olivette Broadway Royster. His distinctive first and middle names were the result of a family tradition of using the names of states for their offspring, begun by his great-grandfather. In addition to his grandfather's unusual name, his great-uncles were named Arkansas Delaware, Wisconsin Illinois, Oregon Minnesota, and Iowa Michigan Royster; his great-aunts were Louisana Maryland, Virginia Carolina, and Georgia Indiana Royster (Adams 2006). They were usually called by their first and middle initials. These names were so unusual that for many years they were printed in the Ripley's Believe It or Not! series of books.
Although this family tradition was not continued into his father's generation, Vermont C. was named after his paternal grandfather, whom his mother admired deeply. His siblings were not named this way, though, his brother, born in 1919, was named Tommy and his sister, born in 1927, was called Saravette.
Vermont C. spent his early years in Chapel Hill, as his father taught Latin and Greek at the nearby University of North Carolina. In 1920, his family moved to Raleigh to help his grandfather who owned and operated the Royster Candy Company in Raleigh, which sold chocolate, peanut brittle, and other candies across the Carolinas and Virginia.
Although Vermont C. completed high school in 1929, his father sent him to the Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tennessee for two years. After graduating from there, he entered the University of North Carolina. He became involved with the campus newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel, working as assistant night editor, music critic, and editorial writer (Adams 2006). He graduated with a degree in classical languages in 1935.
Moving to New York City, Royster held a number of jobs, including an attempt with two classmates to develop a "Metropolitan News Service" providing news on North Carolinians in New York to their home-state newspapers. The venture failed. In 1936, Royster asked Wall Street Journal editor William Henry Grims for a job. He was hired and soon was asked to move to Washington DC as a reporter.
Royster married Frances Claypoole in 1937. They had two daughters, Eleanor and Sara.
He interrupted his career in journalism to serve in the U.S. Navy for four years during World War II. During this time he was on convoy duty in the Atlantic and later served in the Pacific, seeing action in the Philippines and Okinawa. He rose to the rank of lieutenant commander and served as the captain of a U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Jack Miller, in the Pacific theater of the war from late 1944. In late August 1945, Royster was among the first group of American officers to see the ruins of the Japanese city of Nagasaki, which had been destroyed by the second atomic bomb dropped on Japan.
After the war, Royster returned to the Wall Street Journal, receiving increasing responsibilities until he served as senior editor from 1958 to 1971, after which he was named editor emeritus. He then returned to his hometown, where he wrote his weekly column, "Thinking Things Over," until 1986. He also became a professor of journalism at the University of North Carolina.
Royster received two Pulitzer Prizes for his writing, in 1953 for editorial writing and in 1984 for commentary. In 1976, he received the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award as well as an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Colby College. Other awards he received include Distinguished Service Award, Sigma Delta Chi, 1958; William Allen White Award, University of Kansas, 1971; Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism, 1975; Elijah Lovejoy Award 1976; and North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame, 1980. He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Ronald Reagan in 1986.
Vermont C. Royster died on July 22, 1996, in Raleigh, North Carolina at the age of 82.
Royster was a 1935 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; during his time at UNC he served as editor of the student newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel. Soon after graduating, he moved to New York City, and a year later began his long and illustrious career with the Wall Street Journal.
His career was one of steady advancement, moving quickly from reporter to Washington correspondent, a position he held from 1936 to 1940 and 1945 to 1946 (he interrupted his work to serve in World War II). He then became editorial writer and columnist, and in 1948, he was appointed associate editor. He held that position until 1951, when he became senior associate editor.
Royster was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his editorial writing in 1953, which expressed "warmth, simplicity, and understanding of the basic outlook of the American people" (Stout 1996).
In 1958, Royster became editor of the Wall Street Journal. In his years with the paper Royster met with every U.S. president. In 1962, along with several other leading newspaper editors, he met with Soviet Union premier Nikita Khrushchev. While he was editor, the Wall Street Journal increased its circulation dramatically, becoming one of the most influential newspapers in the world.
He retired as editor of the Wall Street Journal in 1971, becoming editor emeritus and began writing his popular weekly column Thinking Things Over, which he continued until the handicaps of old age forced him to discontinue it in 1986. He was awarded a second Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1984. His column was cited for its "compassion and putting contemporary events in a historical context" (Stout 1996).
After his retirement from the Journal, he became the Kenan Professor of Journalism and Public Affairs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Royster is included in the American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia (Frohnen, Beer, and Nelson, 2006). His writing was right-wing, thoughtful, and gentle in tone. His columns discussed topics ranging from everyday matters to the nature of evil and humankind's relationship with God.
A selection of his earlier editorials were published as A Pride of Prejudices in 1967, and a collection of later writings, including many from his column, was published as The Essential Royster in 1985. Royster also wrote his autobiography, My Own, My Country's Time (1983), in which he described his life from his origins in North Carolina through his service in the war and his long and successful career in journalism.
The late Wall Street Journal editor—a North Carolina native—so respected the craft of journalism that he almost viewed it as a sacred mission (Snider 1996).
For over half a century, as a journalist, author, and teacher, Vermont Royster illuminated the political and economic life of our times. His common sense exploded the pretensions of "expert opinion," and his compelling eloquence warned of the evils of society loosed from its moorings in faith. The voice of the American people can be heard in his prose—honest, open, proud, and free.
The Wall Street Journal, in its appreciation for Royster, noted that "his nearly 40 years of commentary established standards and traditions from which his successors profit daily" (Carlin 1996). Several of the editorials he wrote are considered classics. "In Hoc Anno Domini" appeared every Christmas since he wrote it in 1949. It has been described as:
one of the finest pieces of holiday editorial writing ever put to paper. …And it continues to speak to the yearning human need for freedom. It is, in style, vintage Royster—understated, conservative, and enlightened (Shadroui 2004).
"The Desolate Wilderness" along with "And the Fair Land" have been the Wall Street Journal's traditional Thanksgiving editorials since he wrote them in 1961, with discussion still relevant today:
So sometimes the traveler is asked whence will come their succor. What is to preserve their abundance, or even their civility? How can they pass on to their children a nation as strong and free as the one they inherited from their forefathers? How is their country to endure these cruel storms that beset it from without and from within? … But we can all remind ourselves that the richness of this country was not born in the resources of the earth, though they be plentiful, but in the men that took its measure. For that reminder is everywhere—in the cities, towns, farms, roads, factories, homes, hospitals, schools that spread everywhere over that wilderness.
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