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An Outsider Looking In: Humble Beginnings, 1909-1927

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Letter from Scotty to his sister, Joanna, May 5, 1984
Found in RS 26/20/120, Box 2, Folder: Personal 1983-1984

Emigration to America    

James Barrett Reston was born on November 3, 1909, in Clydebank, Scotland. His parents, Johanna and Jimmy emigrated their young family to America eighteen months later and settled in Dayton, Ohio. Unfortunately, the family’s dream of a better life in America was short-lived when conflict erupted between Johanna and her sister-in-law, whom they were living with at the time. Homesick and unwilling to reconcile, Johanna compelled her family to move back to Scotland.[1] Indeed, Johanna’s imposing personality dominated Reston’s formative years. He remarked that his mother was ‘the strict moral disciplinarian of the family.’[2] Despite his strict upbringing, Reston credited his reporter’s instincts to his mother, claiming her demand for the truth and disdain for pretense embodied good journalism.[3]

Scotty holding his Ohio Public Links Title trophy, circa 1927

Found in RS 26/20/120, Box 150, JBR Personal 1925-2000

Upon the family’s return to Scotland, Johanna realized the folly of her decision. For the next several years, she acted as the family exchequer to fund a second migration to Dayton, Ohio, in 1920. Reston’s reintegration into American society was painful. His classmates mocked his English clothes and Scottish accent and soon nicknamed him “Scotty.” The name followed him throughout his life and ser
ved to remind him of his humble, Scottish roots.[4] Despite these painful episodes, Scotty found an outlet in golf by caddying at the Dayton Country Club. As a caddy, he managed to endear himself to several prominent men, including James Cox, a former presidential candidate and publisher of the Dayton Daily News.[5] Their friendship would s
erve Scotty well in the ensuing years.


Introduction to Newspapers

By the time Scotty began his senior year at Oakwood High School, his golfing skills led him to win the Dayton District Men’s Tournament and the Ohio Public Links Title. Si Burick, the sports editor of the Dayton Daily News, took note of this talented young man and gave Scotty his first introduction to professional journalism. Burick often allowed Scotty to write summaries of local basketball games for the paper.[6] These initial encounters with newspapers eventually led Scotty to choose journalism as his profession.

When Scotty graduated high school, Johanna admonished him to ‘get a job and…an education.’[7] Scotty obeyed his mother’s wishes and found work at the Delco-Remy Corporation where he became the editor of the company’s newspaper The Delco Doings.[8] After a year at Delco, Scotty began making plans to attend college. He contacted John Clifford “Fuzzy” Evans, an old high school friend for advice. Fuzzy encouraged Scotty to enroll in a small mid-western university he was attending.[9] Enticed by the school’s open enrollment policy, Scotty enrolled in the fall of 1928 and became a student at the University of Illinois.

Scotty discusses his childhood embarrassment of his Scottish roots, interviewed by James Reston Jr., December 26, 1977.
Complete interview found in RS 26/20/120, JBR Jr., Interview JBR and SFR Tapes

Continue to: The University of Illinois


[1] John F. Stacks, Scotty: James B. Reston and the Rise and Fall of American Journalism (Boston: Little, Brown, 2003), 15; James Reston to Joanna, May 5, 1984, James B. Reston Papers, 1935-1995; Record Series 26/20/120, Box 2, Folder: Personal, 1983-84, University of Illinois Archives.

[2] James Reston, Deadline: A Memoir (New York: Random House, 1991), 12.

[3] Ibid, 14.

[4] Stacks, Scotty, 20-21; “Tape Recorded Interview with James B. Reston,” December 26, 1977, James B. Reston Papers, 1935-1995; Record Series 26/20/120, University of Illinois Archives.

[5] Ibid, 23.

[6] Reston, Deadline, 25.

[7] Ibid, 27.

[8] Francis J. Hagan, Farewell, Delco Doings, December 1927, James B. Reston Papers; Record Series 26/20/120, Box 2, Folder: Personal Correspondence, 1927, 1991, University of Illinois Archives.

[9] Reston, Deadline, 27; Stacks, Scotty, 24-25.