Foreign Correspondent Rekindled a Love Affair After 50 Years

From a story on by Steven Slosberg headlined “Foreign correspondent rekindled a long-dormant love affair after 50 years”:

Arthur Higbee, who died on Aug. 9 at age 97 in a nursing home in France, bestowed on me several years ago, when I first met him at his home in Stonington, his 660-page hardcover memoir, “Recollections,” with the admonition that I not simply stow it on my shelf and ignore it.

I haven’t. The memoir is such that it invites the reader to jump in anywhere.

He was a journalist, a good one with a lively pen, in the post-World War II decades of reporting abroad in foreign capitals in Europe, the Middle East and the Far East, and Vietnam, mostly for UPI and Newsweek, covering everything, knowing everyone (dating more than a few of them and marrying three of them) and generally abiding by what became his maxim: “Life is for the living.”

I learned by chance he was living in Stonington with his dear partner, Alice Houston, after reading his name in an announcement that his daughter, Diana, an American-French soprano living in France, would be performing at the La Grua Center in Stonington Borough. This was in the summer of 2018.

His name was not unfamiliar to me. It was his byline on an old newspaper clipping I’ve kept about the death of another journalist, Joe Alex Morris Jr., while covering the riots surrounding the fall of the Shah of Iran in early 1979.

Higbee and Morris, then the highly respected foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, and other journalists were in a third-story room near the airport in Tehran when machine gun shots broke out and Morris stood up to look out at what was happening. He was shot in the chest. The wound was fatal.

The late Clare Morris Peckham, the sister of Morris, was the longtime librarian at The Day, and a close friend to many of us, during her years there and well into retirement.

Higbee wrote the story of Morris’ death for UPI, and also included the narrative of the event and aftermath in his memoir.

But I want to repeat a happier story conveyed by Higbee at the end of “Recollections.”

In 1961, Higbee, who had been UPI bureau chief in Cairo, met Alice Watson, then 23 and a recent graduate of Smith College. Higbee was 36 and about to be married to his first wife, Eda Michel. They had a chaste but enchanting time together in Paris. “We had had a reasonably flaming affair,” wrote Higbee, “and I might well have asked her to marry me had I not been almost literally mad about Eda.”

They went their separate ways. Higbee married Eda, and then, after being divorced in 1964, married Donelle Patton in 1973, had two children with her, and following a divorce, married Gladys Garner in 2004. She died in 2010. This last marriage was his happiest.

Alice returned to America and eventually married James Houston, a Canadian arctic explorer, prolific author and most notably chief designer for Steuben Glass. They settled in Stonington, in the house on Main Street that was once the home of George Washington Whistler, father of the painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler. James Houston died in 2005.

Fifty years after first meeting Alice, Higbee was back in Paris, still mourning the death of his wife Gladys, when, a few days before Christmas in 2011, he received a call from his first wife, Eda, who had known Alice at Smith. She told him Alice, now Alice Houston, and a widow, was also in Paris and gave him her phone number.

“I phoned Alice,” Higbee wrote. “When I heard her lilting voice, the years melted away. She was tall, blonde, blue-eyed and as beautiful and vivacious as ever. Widowed for eight years, she was passing through Paris en route back to the States from a couple of weeks visiting museums in Berlin.”

Neither one welcomed the prospect of spending Christmas alone.

“Alice was entranced with my view of the Eiffel Tower, lighted up at night like a magical jewel. I made a Christmas Eve dinner of roast chicken (which turned out to be a favorite of hers), gratin dauphinoise (scalloped potatoes) and spinach. For dessert, tarte tatin (caramelized apple pie) with whipped cream. And of course, red wine. I forget which one. Then we walked to the American Church for a Christmas Eve carol sing,” he wrote.

Higbee was smitten. They met again the next day.

“Alice and I spent Christmas evening together but when I tried to kiss her, she gave me only a perfunctory peck.

“‘I’m not ready for that sort of thing,’ she said.

“‘Life is for the living,’ ” I said.

“The following day, Alice flew back to the States. Kiss or no, it had been a pleasant few days. But I had been alone now for well over a year, and I realized I was close to falling in love with Alice.

“The following week the phone rang.

“‘It’s Alice. You were right.’

“‘Right? About what?’

“‘Life is for the living.’

“‘Yes, it is. I’m glad you agree.’

“‘I want to come to Paris and see you. Can you put me up at your place?’

“‘Of course — for a day, a week, a month, a year, forever,’ said I, laying all my cards on the table immediately.”

After Alice returned to Stonington, her friend Susan Tamulevich, director of the New London Maritime Society Custom House Museum, insisted Alice make the call about returning to Paris.

Not long after, Susan Tamulevich was matron of honor at the Pledge of Commitment ceremony for Arthur and Alice at the Road Church in Stonington.

“We settled down to a full and happy life,” wrote Higbee, “summers (mid-June to mid-September) in Stonington, Connecticut, the rest of the year in Paris. Alice named our apartment Le Pied au Ciel (the foothold in the sky).”

Five years ago, Arthur Higbee concluded his memoir this way:

“So here I am, 92 years old, in reasonably good health, living in one of the most desirable apartments in the most beautiful city in the world with the most beautiful girl in the world. Sometimes things turn out right.”

Steven Slosberg lives in Stonington and may be reached at [email protected].

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