Charlotte Saikowski, who passed on last Saturday, was one of the Monitor's all-time best women journalists.
Let me rephrase that. Charlotte Saikowski was one of the Monitor's all-time best journalists. I would not want to make the same, gender-demeaning mistake as that hapless American general in Korea who once told Charlotte she could not fly on a press chopper to the Demilitarized Zone because it was "too dangerous for a woman."
The general may have commanded legions of soldiers. But when he caught Charlotte's unblinking stare and heard her, in perfectly ladylike but forceful words, tell him that his position was unacceptable, he knew steel when he saw it.
The general beat a retreat. Charlotte flew on the chopper.
That was Charlotte, a compendium of all the best qualities; womanly compassion and sensitivity on the one hand, lion-hearted courage and an overriding layer of integrity on the other.
That's what made her a great reporter.
That's what made her a great chronicler and interpreter of the Soviet Union and communism, for which she is probably best remembered, although she held various other assignments during her Monitor career.
Gary Thatcher, now national editor of the Chicago Tribune, who had followed Charlotte as the Monitor's Moscow bureau chief, remembers: "Though her family in Poland had suffered from Russian oppression, she never stereotyped peoples and nations. She could make the distinction between the evil of communism and the good in the Russian people."
Proficient in Polish and Russian, she had the advantage of language and background. Graduating from Principia College in Elsah, Ill., in 1947, she taught English at the University of Warsaw, Poland, for two years and studied at the Warsaw Conservatory of Music.
Returning to the United States, she was awarded a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University.
Then followed 10 years as an editor at Columbia's Current Digest of the Soviet Press, during which time she also served as a guide at the 1957 American National Exhibition in Moscow. She joined the Monitor in 1962.
Says Rod Nordell, who worked as an editorial writer under Charlotte when she later edited the Monitor's editorial page: "She was no pushover where Russia was concerned, even though she had an affection for the Russian people."
Her ease with Russian musicians and artists derived from her own ability as a talented performer. Peter Osterlund, now a Hollywood script writer, who worked as a reporter in the Monitor's Washington bureau when Charlotte was there and occasionally played violin duets with her, says she could have made a successful career as a professional musician.
"She played her beloved 18th-century Rogeri [from Cremona, the cradle of great Italian violin- makers] with the same precision and doggedness as she applied to journalism. Her playing was exquisite," he says.
Besides her Moscow assignment, Charlotte served at various times as the Monitor's correspondent in Japan, as diplomatic correspondent in Washington, as chief editorial writer in Boston, and as chief of the Washington bureau. Into all those roles there flowed her expertise as an expert on communism and the then-Soviet empire. Ambassadors and former ambassadors, Cabinet ministers and foreign ministers, and distinguished professors of Soviet studies canvassed her views, exchanged impressions, and drew upon her knowledge.
She cloaked this expertise with an engaging humility. As a Monitor correspondent, Gary Thatcher covered three US-Soviet summits with Charlotte, in Geneva, Moscow, and Washington.
"Late at night, tapping away on our stories," he says, "there would be Charlotte, knowing everything there was to know about the Soviet Union and arms control. Yet she would ask me what I thought and ask me my opinion. What humility."
That humility came through whenever, during my time as the Monitor's editor, I asked her to take on some new assignment. Always she would initially demur, claiming it was beyond her.
But she always put the paper first, and after a while she would agree to go, pack up her things and move, and of course perform splendidly. No doubt about that; in the course of her career she won three Overseas Press Club awards for international reporting, and a slew of other journalistic honors. Says Mr. Osterlund: "She was committed to The Christian Science Monitor and everything it stood for."
And so she was.
*John Hughes was editor of the Monitor from 1970 to 1979.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society