Peggy Anderson, 77, author of bestseller NURSE, died Sunday, January 17, 2016

Peggy Anderson (Togo 1962-64) who wrote a national best-seller about the life of a big-city hospital nurse, died Sunday, January 17, 2017.

Ms. Anderson, a former Inquirer writer and copy editor, was in Penn Medicine’s hospice unit in Center City. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer nearly seven years ago. It went into remission, but returned last year and spread, said Mary Walton, a longtime friend.

In 1978, Ms. Anderson achieved great success with her book Nurse: The True Story of Mary Benjamin, R.N.


Ms. Anderson, whose mother was a nurse, spent two months trying to find someone who would best serve as the focus of her book. That person turned out to be Mary Fish, who was a head nurse at Pennsylvania Hospital.

Fish agreed, but was skeptical that readers would care. “This book isn’t going to go anywhere,” she recalled thinking at the time. “Nobody is going to be interested.”

She was wrong. The book was a hit, selling more than two million copies and becoming the basis for a television movie and series of the same name.

Fish, who was identified in the book by the alias Mary Benjamin, became a lifelong friend of Ms. Anderson’s.

“The best part of that book was getting to know Peggy,” she said.

Retired columnist William J. Speers, who met Ms. Anderson when they worked at The Inquirer in the late 1960s, said she was witty, a good listener, and fun to be with.

“She had such a lively mind,” he said.

Ms. Anderson was born in Oak Park, Ill., and graduated from Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill.

She spent two years in the early 1960s in the West African nation of Togo with the Peace Corps.

“She was a true believer” in President John F. Kennedy and that “young people were going to change the world,” Speers said.

Ms. Anderson became a reporter at the newly founded Washington Monthly, but decided that she did not have a talent for muckraking.

She joined The Inquirer in 1969 as a Sunday magazine writer and later worked in features until 1973, when she decided to write her first book, The Daughters, about the Daughters of the American Revolution.

It was critically well received, but made very little money.

Before the success of Nurse, Ms. Anderson had been struggling as a freelance writer.

“She lived on bean soup and used to count how many squeezes she could get out of a toothpaste tube,” her agent, Jay Acton, told People magazine in 1980.

With the money she made from the book, she purchased her Center City townhouse, took a vacation to Barbados and Mexico, and bought a Honda Accord, according to a 1985 Inquirer profile.

Her third book, Children’s Hospital, which followed six patients at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, did not do as well as Nurse, but she said it contained “the most gratifying material I ever worked on in my life.”

She worked on, but never published, a book about the murder of her father during a robbery in Chicago.

Ms. Anderson returned to The Inquirer as a copy editor in the late 1990s and early 2000s.nurse-peggy-anderson-paperback-cover-art2

“Peggy had a very full life, but she was always available when we needed her,” said David Sullivan, assistant managing editor for editing, standards, and operations. “She could handle all types of news and features stories with equal skill. When she first came to work for us, a colleague said, ‘That’s the Peggy Anderson of Nurse?’

“I had no idea she was well-known nationally and wondered if she was going to have trouble with being part of a copy desk. On the contrary, she fit right in as part of the team from the beginning,” Sullivan said.

She lived alone at home, where she wrote her books, and “she needed the infusion of people in her workaday life,” Speers said of her job at the newspaper.

Before her cancer diagnosis, Ms. Anderson began work on a book about hospice nursing, and she was almost done when she died, said Walton, another former Inquirer journalist.

Ms. Anderson loved cooking and entertaining, as well as attending the theater and movies, Walton said.

She is survived by a brother, Peter Anderson; a sister, Kathryn Pamela Anderson; and nephews Eric and Kyle Anderson.

Services are at 1 p.m. Thursday at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 313 Pine St., Philadelphia.


One Comment

  • Thank you Nurse! The Kennedys taught us that youth can make a diiference! You are part of the Peace Corps family!
    Colombia 1964-66

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