Peggy Anderson, Arlington Heights native and author of 'Nurse,' dies at 77

By Eileen O. Daday

Daily Herald Correspondent

A best-selling writer whose book "Nurse" was the basis for a television movie and series and whose roots go back to Arlington High School has died.

Peggy Anderson grew up in the Scarsdale neighborhood of Arlington Heights as the oldest of three children whose mother was a nurse. Family members say she never aspired to be a nurse herself, but instead wanted to write and found her voice in documenting the working conditions in nursing.

Anderson died Sunday in Philadelphia, where she had lived since 1969, when she joined The Philadelphia Inquirer as a features writer. She was 77.

Anderson graduated from Arlington High School in 1956 and attended Augustana College in Rock Island.

"She really bloomed when she got to Augustana," said Pauline Fehlman, a former admissions director and friend of Anderson's. "She was the editor of the college newspaper, The Observer, and a frequent contributor to its magazine, Saga. She clearly had an interest in publishing and writing."

Her career in journalism didn't take off immediately, however. Anderson worked in admissions at Augustana for six months and then entered the Peace Corps. She taught English for two years, 1962-1964 in Togo, West Africa.

Anderson began her career in journalism as a writer and editor for the Washington Monthly, before joining the staff of the Inquirer.

One of her features led to her first nonfiction book in 1974, "The Daughters," about the Daughters of the American Revolution.

"'Daughters' reconstructed the fullest version yet written of the infamous Marian Anderson incident of 1939," when black soprano Marian Anderson was denied the opportunity to sing before an integrated audience in DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., said Peggy Anderson's longtime friend Maureen Carroll.

The book set in stone Anderson's investigative style, which relied heavily on in-depth research and hours of interviews.

"Nurse" was published in 1978 and was a best-seller in both paperback and hard cover, eventually selling more than 2 million copies. The TV series starred Michael Learned as Nurse Mary Benjamin, a role that won her an Emmy.

Anderson's success at documenting the nursing field led her to write "Children's Hospital," published in 1986. In it, she told the stories of five children with life-threatening illnesses who were being treated at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Over the last several years, as Anderson battled lung cancer, she worked on her latest, as yet unpublished, book: "It's About Life," the story of hospice. It was intended as the third in her series of nonfiction books about clinical and administrative medical issues.

"(Peggy) told the stories of real-life patients and health providers," Carroll said, "to illuminate and humanize critical matters in health care."

Anderson was preceded in death by her mother, Catherine Anderson MacMillan, and her father, Wilbert Anderson, who was murdered in a robbery at his plumbing and heating business in 1970.

She is survived by her brother, Peter Anderson, of Bellingham, Washington, and her sister, Kathryn Pamela Anderson of Buffalo Grove.

Services are planned for Thursday in Philadelphia.

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