2016-07-14 / Senior Savvy

A ‘Chance Thought’ Blooms for 40 Years

By Florence Archambault

In 1976 I was working for a small precious metals firm which had an office on the corner of Spring and Touro streets. The parking lot fronted Spring Street. One day as I was getting out of my car, I looked around and realized that the dilapidated buildings that had once been nearby were gone, and some more respectable ones had taken their place. A building that had been a rooming house had burned to the ground the year before, and in its place stood two reconstructed Colonial houses–moved from New Jersey by the Doris Duke Foundation. Other houses further down the street had been painted and refurbished.

It struck me that there was a story here, since all this reconstruction had been accomplished by private individuals without the help of bureaucratic agencies.

When I got to my office I called John Pantalone, the editor of Newport This Week, a paper that had begun publishing the year before. I asked if he accepted freelance work. He hedged a bit and said, “Sometimes, but I would have to see it first.”


The article by Florence Archambault about house restorations on Spring Street undertaken by the Doris Duke Foundation in the July 9, 1976 edition was the writer’s first submission to Newport This Week. On the page with her story was an advertisement for Egan’s Laundry and Poor Richard’s “Formerly Top’s Restaurant.” The other photo and story by Archambault is of Ted Hodges from the January 1977 issue. She recalls that Hodges was upset because she wouldn’t let him read the article before it ran. (From the NTW archives) The article by Florence Archambault about house restorations on Spring Street undertaken by the Doris Duke Foundation in the July 9, 1976 edition was the writer’s first submission to Newport This Week. On the page with her story was an advertisement for Egan’s Laundry and Poor Richard’s “Formerly Top’s Restaurant.” The other photo and story by Archambault is of Ted Hodges from the January 1977 issue. She recalls that Hodges was upset because she wouldn’t let him read the article before it ran. (From the NTW archives) I wrote a piece about the changing face of Spring Street. Until then, I had never written anything besides letters and press releases. He accepted the piece and printed it in the July 9, 1976 issue of the paper. And he paid me for it: the grand sum of $15!

I never dreamed that I would write another article. The next edition contained an editorial by Pantalone, wondering why anyone would want to stand for hours to see Queen Elizabeth on her visit to Newport for the Bicentennial. I immediately wrote what I assumed would be a letter to the editor about why I would, and he ran it as an article and again I received a check. Now I was hooked! Pantalone offered to take other pieces, and I ended up writing for NTW (off and on) for 40 years. It went from a biweekly to a weekly, and for several years I wrote two pieces a week.

Sometimes I was hard put to come up with ideas, but I always managed. Although some were far out: There was the one about zucchini and who ate what for breakfast (including the mayor, Harp Donnelly).

I was given assignments over the years and interviewed–among others–Ginger Rogers and Geraldine

Chaplin, not to mention a famous football player (whose name eludes me) on his boat tied up at Christie’s Landing. During Newport’s 350th anniversary I wrote a weekly historical column. In the meantime I decided to try to break into other fields of journalism and succeeded in being published in Hobbies magazine and a Greek newspaper in New York—until I ran out of pieces with a Greek slant.

I also wrote a column for a couple of years in a Depression-glass journal on Occupied Japan collectibles, which I collect.

In 1992 I was in the dentist’s office and came across a new monthly publication called Old Rhode Island, which was devoted to articles about Rhode Island history. With my large collection of Newport postcards and old photographs, I called and said I would love to write for them. The editor and the publisher came to Newport and inspected the material I had, and I wrote for them every month until the magazine closed down.

Around the same time a friend told me that another new paper, R.I. Senior Times, was looking for writers. I sent queries on several article ideas, some of which were accepted.

I went on to become their food editor for several years and wrote a monthly column until they ceased publication.

Meanwhile, Lynne Tungett started Newport Life Magazine and I was thrilled to have two articles published in the inaugural issue. Later, when she became editor of Newport This Week she took my articles again; and now, as publisher and editor, she accepts anything I send her (within reason, of course.)

I cannot begin to thank John Pantalone for giving me that first opportunity and mentoring me in the beginning of my writing career, and Lynne Tungett, who continues to have faith in me. Thanks, guys.

I never dreamed that a chance thought in June of 1976, stepping out of my car in that parking lot, would lead to all this. That is how I found a career by accident. And a very exciting 40 years it has been!

Florence Archambault, of Newport, is 86 years young and well-known for her community volunteerism and teaching and writing family history.

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