Tippy Stringer-Hunter-ConradJuly 15, 1930 - October 1, 2010
One of the first women to appear on a large-market news broadcast, Tippy Stringer gained a following in the Washington, D.C. area as a weather reporter for the television station WRC-TV. Ms. Stringer’s combination of high-spirited good looks and sophisticated intelligence, on display in appearances such as in Life magazine in 1955 with her cartoon creation Senator Fairweather, quickly won her national attention.
Ms. Stringer hosted cooking, homemaking and weather shows for WRC TV and radio before becoming the station’s resident ‘weather girl’ in 1953. Also performing as a star singer at the Shoreham hotel near where the television station was housed, she would often traverse an underground tunnel that connected the two, as she did two floor shows and two weather shows nightly requiring speedy runs through the tunnel. She presented the weather on Afternoon, a television show hosted by Willard Scott, and featuring Jim Henson and his early Muppets. The Washington business community took note of Stringer’s talents on the high-profile show, and invited her frequently to promote local products as well as appear in parades and other ceremonial events.
Both of Stringer’s parents were graduates of the University of Chicago, and her father was an executive with the National Broadcasting Association. Her full given name, Lewis Tipton Stringer, led to a mix-up in which she was accepted to attend William and Mary College under the mistaken assumption that she was a male. Since she had been assigned to a men’s dormitory and there was no more room in the women’s at William and Mary, she decided instead to attend the University of Maryland , and changed her name permanently to Tippy. She majored in theater, starring in several university productions, and in 1951 was crowned homecoming queen. Stringer’s magnetic personality, theatricality and talent drew the attention of film industry executives and theatrical agents, but her choice of a career in broadcasting made her a pioneer: not only was she one of the first women in broadcast news, but also one of the first entertainers to use the new wireless microphone technology.
Stringer’s work in television led her to meet Chet Huntley in 1957, just as the Huntley-Brinkley Report was becoming the flagship NBC nightly news program. Brinkley, stationed in Washington D.C., introduced Stringer to Huntley in New York via satellite. The couple courted ‘virtually’ for several months before marrying in 1959. Stringer continued to work in advertising, radio, and television for the first years of her marriage to Huntley but the demands of being a wife and hostess to the increasingly successful broadcaster during the event-filled 1960s eventually required her to abandon her own career. But Stringer’s natural theatricality and talent kept her involved: in 1968, when the Report covered the complicated events involved in the Democratic Convention in Chicago, Stringer was on hand to add behind-the-scenes commentary. Upon Huntley’s retirement from NBC news in 1970, the couple founded the Big Sky Resort outside Bozeman, in his home state of Montana.
After Huntley died in 1974, Stringer went on the lecture circuit to draw attention to the emotional and psychological hardships associated with becoming a widow. She even appeared on The Phil Donahue Show to discuss the stress and stigma of widowhood, topics that had not been widely publicly contemplated at the time.
Stringer stayed in the public eye with a bid as a Republican Congressional candidate for Montana in 1978 which, although ultimately unsuccessful, was important in increasing the visibility of women running for elective office.
In 1980, Stringer met actor William Conrad, the original voice of Marshall Matt Dillon on the radio version of Gunsmoke, and later known for his roles in television shows such as Cannon. The couple was married in a small ceremony in 1980 and Stringer went on to help manage Conrad in the later years of his career, including his starring role on Jake and the Fatman, through his death in 1994.
In 1995 Tippy Stringer founded the Stringer Foundation, which has funded medical research, public broadcasting, literacy groups, animal protection groups, woman’s shelter, and reproductive education.
Friends often noted that ‘Once you met Tippy you never forgot her.’ Stringer’s taste and a creative mind helped her negotiate a career in the infant television broadcasting industry, when opportunities for women were limited, and helped pave the way for many younger women who have since enjoyed a more open field for their own notable careers.