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Peggy Constantine dies; Sun-Times writer, critic

Peggy Constantine

Peggy Constantine

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Updated: March 4, 2013 6:44AM

Whether she was writing about Judy Garland — or the guy down the street — Peggy Constantine had a bright, smart style that entertained and educated readers of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Versatile as an MVP, she wrote reviews on classical music, ballet and theater; and she did travel writing, TV listings, and general reporting and copy editing. For many years, she produced a popular column about the latest paperback books.

After winning a Rockefeller Foundation grant to study music at UCLA, she reported about the experience as if she were an anthropologist observing an undiscovered counterculture tribe: the College Students of 1966. She learned that the hair of a “co-ed” should be surfer-straight, and that eye make-up should be Nefertitian.

When a student told her a violinist’s performance was “out of sight,” she asked, “Is that good or bad?” (In the groovy parlance of the time, it meant really, really good.)

Ms. Constantine, who worked at the Chicago Sun-Times from 1960-1988, died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease Dec. 26 in Wisconsin. She was 82.

She grew up in Racine, Wis., the daughter of a physician father and a nurse mother. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Duke University, and a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University.

She worked at World Book Encyclopedia before joining the Sun-Times as an editorial assistant on the TV Prevue section.

Her work was often featured in what newspapers once called the “women’s section.” In the case of the Sun-Times, there was “Feminine Angle,” with stories about society, fashion, and the home. It also included advice from columnist Eppie Lederer, better known by her nom de plume, Ann Landers.

The advice maven was so impressed with her, that “Eppie had wanted Peggy to work for her full-time,” said her niece, Ann Bloor.

Ms. Constantine was proud of her interviews with singer Judy Garland; prima ballerina Suzanne Farrell and singer-songwriter Dory Previn, said her friend, Barbara Varro, former fashion editor and feature writer for the Sun-Times.

She was smartly barbed when she had to be. Reporting on a swami who said women were less intelligent than men, Ms. Constantine wrote: “Forgive me if this story is not well-written. I am a woman. My brain weighs less than a man’s and I am not equal in intelligence,” according to a book about the Hare Krishna movement, “Betrayal of the Spirit.”

When her nieces and nephews came to visit her, she introduced them to Sun-Times stars including Mike Royko and Roger Ebert.

She was well-regarded, expert, and droll, Ebert said, and, “like good copy editors, she knew everything.”

“She also knew the names of the guys who set the type and took out the trash. She knew all those people, and would introduce us to all those people, because they all made the Sun-Times work,” her niece said.

Ms. Constantine lived in Lake View. At one time, she had three cats: Sara, Cher, and Zubin (for conductor Zubin Mehta). Her favorite meal was simple. “She loved hamburgers. Her hamburgers were her favorite,” Varro said.

And she always took a walk after dinner.

After retiring from the Sun-Times, Ms. Constantine wrote book reviews for the New York Times. She enjoyed mysteries, with author P.D. James a particular favorite.

Eventually, she moved back to Racine to be closer to family. She golfed, traveled and listened to Beethoven and Brahms.

“I was just in awe of her,” her niece said. After just a note, “she knew immediately what piece was playing, and would tell me and share it with me.”

Even with memory issues from Alzheimer’s, she enjoyed her music. “She tapped her toes” in time, her niece said. “One of her last, favorite songs that she could actually sing was ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’ ”

Ms. Constantine is survived by her brother, Dr. Thomas Constantine, and 14 nieces and nephews.

Services were held in Racine.

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