Publisher emerita: Kay 'I'm not a bluestocking' Peaslee

Charlottesville was a very different landscape when Kay Peaslee moved here from Nova Scotia in 1972. In fact, Peaslee, who'd lived in Canada, China, and Brazil with her foreign service husband, Sandy, considered it a bit of a backwater.

"I'd been accustomed to really good music and theater in Halifax," says Peaslee.

And as for local newspapers and radio, quelle horreur. "There was a city election I never heard about. The AM radio was impossible to listen to. No one was concerned with local media," she laments. "This seemed like a desert as far as information."

Peaslee decided to do something about that, and in 1978 she founded the Observer.

She'd worked on her college newspaper and had written for the Mysterious East in Canada, and the China Weekly Review. Under the tutelage of Daedalus Bookshop owner Sandy McAdams, who ran a '70s alt paper, the Times of Charlottesville, she learned the nuts and bolts of newspapering.

For 10 years, she channeled her passion for writing and public affairs into what was Charlottesville's most respected weekly, until her husband's poor health demanded all of her attention.

The ownership of the Observer has changed four times since Peaslee's tenure, taking its most radical turn when former Christian Coalitioner Jeff Peyton took over the outspoken liberal's creation in 2000. Before leaving in November 2002, Peyton swung the content sharply to the right.

The Observer is again under new management, and Peaslee still reads it. "I look at it quickly," she says. "It takes about five minutes. It has a long way to go."

These days Peaslee resides in a spacious McGuffey Hill condominium. Her coffee table, strewn with nearly a dozen magazines such as the New Yorker, Gironde, and Sierra, hints at her wide range of interests.

Though retired and widowed, she's not idle, taking on the presidencies of the McGuffey Homeowners Association and the Memorial Planning Society, a nonprofit organization that helps people plan for death with dignity, simplicity, and economy. She's also vice president of the North Downtown Residents Association. "I do these things because no one else will," says Peaslee.

The former editor and publisher is a devoted downtown resident. Because she no longer drives, she's become an advocate for transportation issues, pointing out how hard it is to buy groceries when you don't have a car. "It makes me sick to see that space at Vinegar Hill that was a market and now stands empty," she declares.

Peaslee still writes, "mostly agendas," but also poetry, and "I like to write about my cat," she says.

But her first love remains the Observer. "It was the greatest thing I ever did," she says. "All my life, I felt like a dilettante, always moving around." Now she's firmly established as a Charlottesville media legend.

Age: 81

What brought you here? My husband's enrollment in UVA's law school.

What's worst about living here? It's not Arlington.

Favorite hangout? Higher Grounds

Most overrated virtue? Modesty

What would people be surprised to know about you? People don't think about others– they're too busy.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Increase my self-discipline

What accomplishment are you proudest of? Establishing the Charlottesville Observer

What do people find most annoying about you? I appear to be a bluestocking– and I'm not.

Whom do you admire? Gwen Ifill

Favorite book? Greece and the Greeks by Jacob Burkhardt

What subject causes you to rant? Euphemisms

What thrills you about life in the 21st century? NPR and PBS, microwaves

What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? Dependence on technology

What do you drive? I'd like to own a bicycle.

What's in your car CD player right now? I have no car.

What's your next journey? A cruise in the Greek isles with my neighbor at McGuffey, conducted by Elderhostel.

What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? Chairing the local government committee of the local League of Women Voters.

What do you regret? My unplanned life

Favorite comfort food? Warm milk

What's always in your refrigerator? Fresh fruit and yogurt

Must-see TV? Book Notes Sunday night on C-Span and Washington Week in Review Friday night

Favorite cartoon? Hagar the Horrible

Describe a perfect day. Rise early. Walk to the Downtown Mall and ACAC. After workout, to the library to browse. Lunch with grandson, swim at Fry's Spring, dinner with Sarah and family.

Walter Mitty fantasy? Publication of my bio of Ellen Glasgow

Who'd play you in the movie? Judi Dench

Most embarrassing moment? Turning up for dinner with friends a week late

Best advice you ever got? Control health by daily exercise.

Favorite bumper sticker? Impeach Bush

Kay Peaslee