ARCHIVE LIBRARY

WILLIAM RANDOLPH HEARST AND ALEXANDRIA Part Two

by Michael D. Wynne

(Continued from October Issue)

Back to Gretchen’s life: After her 1933 marriage to John R. Hearst Sr., only one child was known to be born to this union –  John Randolph “Bunky” Hearst, Jr., (1933-2010), born in New York City. But by 1937, John and Gretchen (Wilson) Hearst divorced. In February of 1940, former Alexandrian Gretchen Wilson Hearst remarried, this time to the very wealthy Woolsworth Donahue, not surprisingly having this specific name as he was heir to the Woolworth store fortune.

Gretchen graduated from Bolton High in May of 1929. It should be noted that Gretchen is also described in the various newspapers at this time as the great granddaughter of Stonewall Jackson of Civil War fame.

After her 1933 marriage, Gretchen, John Sr. and son Bunky (John Jr.) often returned to Alexandria to stay with her grandmother Mrs. John L. (Pearl) Wilson at her home, especially during the summer months. Mrs. Wilson lived at 2334 Hill Street, a home still in existence. The Hearst family would also travel down to the nearby community of Fishville and stay in the John Ball log cabin where Bunky and his family could swim and skate in the community skating ring while trying to stay cool. (People in Alexandria didn’t have personal swimming pools back then.) Many societal entries appeared in the Town Talk newspaper about their growing infrequent visits back here.

Gretchen was often listed as attending local parties and meetings, such as the Ann Stafford party in September of 1933, and was always listed as Mrs. John Randolph Hearst, Sr. In later years during her second marriage, Gretchen would fly into Pineville in her family3′s personal airplane.

While in town, young John Randolph “Bunky” Hearst, Jr. would play with local children. Well-known Alexandrian, Edwin J. “Ed” Caplan indicated that he and Bunky were about the same age and often played together. Ed noted to this writer that the Hearst family used to visit one of Gretchen’s relatives, Margaret Wade Campbell. He further stated, “I remember a blond headed kid; we were about 7, 8 or 9 years old then. It was summertime and he (Bunky) made two separate visits of about 10 days each. We played the usual kid games – baseball, marbles, sling shot, etc. Other neighbors were Travis Hamilton, Kotz Patterson, and Lucy Singleton … Although his grandfather was a “famous person,” it didn’t seem that important to me at that time … “.

This writer spoke with Margaret Wade Campbell of 813 Lakeshore Drive, Pineville, a childhood friend of both Ed Caplan and Bunky Hearst. She remembered Bunky and his parents visiting with her parents back in the 30’s, but that was about all she remembers.

Known for his sense of humor, Bunky enjoyed telling the story of how he had acquired his unusual nickname. He told the New York Times in 1983 that a cartoon character in his grandfather’s newspaper, the New York Journal-American, was to blame. “I used to wear huge baby bonnets,” Hearst was quoted as saying. “And my godfather took one look at me and said, “He looks like Bunky in the funny papers.”

It should be noted that Patricia “Patty” Hearst, famed 1974 kidnapping victim, is a first cousin of Bunky Hearst.

Bunky’s obituary is lengthy and quite fascinating. Here is an excerpt: “… He suffered a debilitating stroke in 1989, but several months later, he married 50-year-old Barbara Hearst. The marriage lasted until 2004, when Barbara Hearst filed
for divorce, accusing him of constructive abandonment and cruel and inhumane treatment. The New York Post put it on a list of the city’s nastiest divorces …”

Although there is no decisive evidence that William Randolph Hearst Sr. ever visited Alexandria, he clearly had learned about Alexandria from his daughter-in-law, Gretchen Wilson Hearst.

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