Journalist’s gift for narrative being recognized |

Journalist’s gift for narrative being recognized

Chic DiFrancia
Special to the Appeal

Jean Sybil McElrath transcends words like “adversity.”

“Guts” more accurately describes this most remarkable lady who distinguished herself as a Nevada journalist and author in a career spanning three decades.

Her column Tumbleweeds, published in the Wells Progress for more than 20 years, was written while Jean lay in bed crippled from severe arthritis that had her bedridden since her teens.

When her strength began to wane and her fingers could no longer press the keys on her manual typewriter, it was replaced with an electric one. Later when she went blind, Braille letters were taped to the keys so she could continue to work.

When a hot story broke, Jean’s sister Anita would load her gurney into a station wagon and go bounding down some dirt road in Elko County to get the story, often scooping the competition in the process.

At the time of her death on Oct. 7, 1967, an editorial appeared in the “Elko Daily Free Press” it read: “Her words danced up and down on the pages she wrote. The most ordinary story came alive because of her ability to write.”

Even Nevada’s premier storyteller Robert Laxalt was moved by the quality of her work. In his foreword to Jean’s book “Aged In Sage” published in 1964, Laxalt wrote: “… Not only has she breathed life into fine old stories that would otherwise have been left to die, but she has done so with a true storyteller’s gift of narrative. … It is a testament to the extraordinary courage of a woman who has managed to write a book despite the obstacles of blindness and paralysis. …”

Today marks the 40th year since Jean’s passing and her time for recognition is long overdue. Much more could be said about this dedicated woman who left us a rich legacy in Nevada journalism.

Jean was inducted into the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame on Sept. 29.

AboutJean Sybil McElrath

Born: Chloride, Ariz., June 8, 1917

Died: Elko, Oct. 7, 1967

Major Fields of Work: Journalist, author, poet, columnist, feature writer and historian.


1965 – Distinguished Nevadan Award

1966 – Certificate of Merit from Nevada Press Association

2007 – Inducted into the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame