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It's tough to demonstrate some skills during a cocktail party

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Lynne D. Schwabe is the director of development for the National Youth Science Foundation. She can be reached at

I have worked in journalism since I was in the ninth grade. Initially, my job at the then-Morgantown Post consisted of writing obits or stories about people's impending nuptials, an inauspicious beginning that led to no Pulitzer Prize nominations.

My first breaks were becoming managing editor of The Daily Athenaeum at West Virginia University and being hired for a summer as journeyman reporter and photographer for The Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror. The former job was great fun and allowed me to pretend I was a big deal. The latter allowed me to interview the actual big deals that came to Nantucket that summer, notably Walter Cronkite, Bea Lily and Tennessee Williams. 

Why my father let me go to Nantucket for the summer is beyond me. I had been hired by an ex-editor of The Miami Herald, and it would not have been appropriate for me to ask why he was now working on a small weekly on an island (alcoholism). Before I even set foot on the island, he had taken to writing me long, boozy letters, closing with phrases such as "Good night, sweet princess." My father was beside himself, but he still drove me to the plane.

When that day arrived, I put on my only suit — blue and white seersucker — and bravely departed. The editor picked me up at the other end. He insisted that we have dinner at The Jared Coffin House, one of Nantucket's fanciest restaurants. What little I knew then about food and drink, I had learned at home. My father drank martinis, so that's what I ordered, not knowing that martinis can strip paint off walls. My mother always raved about clams on the half shell, so I ordered those too, not having any idea that they would be raw. I bravely shouldered on, pretending to be a sophisticate, daintily sipping the martini and trying to swallow the clams whole, while trying not to gag and managing to avoid dripping clam juice on my seersucker fashion garment. Luckily, I was safely delivered to my boarding house without incident, and the rest of the summer went swimmingly. 

When I think back on it, the seersucker suit probably went a long way to removing any sex appeal that a 19-year-old might have had for a 50-something, hard-bitten, always-tipsy newsman. After graduating from college, I was hired to work for the U.S. government as a reporter in The Philippines. This assignment meant that I was stationed just outside Clark Air Base and worked not only for the base newspaper but also for The Pacific Stars and Stripes. The assignments for the government were to cover what was happening in the Vietnam War for newspapers that could not afford to field their own correspondents. This was mostly a terrifying duty that I've tried to banish all memory of.

However, the two most exciting assignments of my life came about at Clark Air Base.

First, I was assigned to go through the Jungle Survival School on base that all servicemen had to pass through before being sent on to other places in Asia. After five days of class, in which we learned things like identifying Viet Cong booby traps, how to find water in the jungle, what plants and insects you could eat and how to handle a 12 foot-long python named Charlene, we were airlifted into the jungles above the airbase, which were peopled by a pygmy tribe. The goal (and the ticket to graduation) was to survive for three days in the jungle. We were dispatched without supplies (except for a bag of poker chips), so immediately we had to depend on our newly acquired survival skills. One half hour after shoeing us into the jungle, the pygmies gave chase. If they found one of us, we were obligated to give them a poker chip, which they later turned in for a bag of rice. It was an unforgettable experience. And how many people do you know who have been chased by pygmies?

At that time, Chuck Yeager was head of a big fighter wing at Clark. I wrote him a letter, begging him as a fellow West Virginian to let me fly on one of the F-102s that were state-of-the-art fighter airplanes at that time. Much to my surprise, he approved. I had a few hours training in a simulator, and then off I went with a squadron to fly air defense of the Philippines. The pilots had mixed feelings about this. I was the first woman to ever have been allowed on one of their planes, which the pilots thought was kind of cute. However, pilot machismo kicked in, and once we got in the air, my pilot devoted himself to making me throw up: flying upside down, flying about 5 feet off the ground and turning summersaults at high speeds. We also flew wing-tip-to-wing-tip in formation until given the order to peel away. I did not throw up, although my normally swarthy olive complexion was decidedly pale upon landing.

Soon after my return to the states, I decided that despite the excitement of newspaper reporting, I needed to make more than the $1.98 I was being paid at the time. That decision led me to being a speechwriter for Jay Rockefeller, marrying Albert Schwabe, then winding up in retailing and ultimately with the National Youth Science Foundation.

A lasting takeaway is that I am not afraid of snakes and if forced, can eat insects. 

These are not talents one demonstrates at cocktail parties. 

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