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Journalist Sally Macmillan dies, aged 68

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Colourful journalist Sally Macmillan passed away on Monday after a short battle with cancer, aged 68. PIERS AKERMAN remembers her eccentric style and dedicated work ethic.

Sally Macmillan, one of Australia’s best-known and colourful journalists died yesterday after a two-month struggle with cancer aged 68. Born in Katoomba, Macmillan, began her long career at The Daily Telegraph when it was owned by the Packer family, and stayed with that newspaper after it was acquired by News Limited in 1972.

A bright personality, who wore mini-skirts and knee length boots when they were in fashion, she was a striking young woman not afraid of using her considerable charm and beauty to win confidences. In Sydney she covered rounds, including the race track, not normally assigned to women reporters.

In the mid-70s she was sent to News Ltd’s New York Bureau and was married briefly to a New York State trooper Douglas Lamana, whom, she met during the 1980 celebrity trial of school headmistress Jean Harris who was convicted of murdering the author of the best-selling Scarsdale Diet, Doctor Hy Tarnower.

Macmillan boards a Qantas jet to take up her appointment as News Limited's New York correspondent.
Macmillan boards a Qantas jet to take up her appointment as News Limited’s New York correspondent.

Reporting for newspapers in Australia and the UK required her to begin her work day early each morning to meet Fleet Street deadlines, a practice she continued, surprising copy boys by being at her desk well before 5am, till she retired.

Macmillan was well-loved in international media circles but she requested privacy after her final diagnosis in December. A private cremation will be held and her ashes scattered at sea.

Les Hinton, a former chief executive of News International and Dow Jones said: “Sally was a great spirit. We all shared the cramped 1970s News Limited Manhattan bureau — Akerman, Col Allan, Ross Waby, John Raedler, Graeme Beaton. Long ago.”

Stephen Brook, The Australian’s Media Diarist, said in his column on Monday: “Several times in your life you encounter journalistic forces of nature. The first time that happened to your Diarist was in the first few weeks of his career as a copyboy at News Ltd ancient Holt Street monolith in 1995.

“One of my first jobs as AM Sorts, a paper boy, delivering all the papers to everyone in the building. The shift started at 4am. One of the few people I encountered at that time was Sally Macmillan, a feature writer on the Sunday Telegraph. She told me she wanted to work them because she wouldn’t be disturbed by office chitchat. She also had an unfailingly good piece of advice: always request the interview, no matter how important the person is — they might just say yes. Vale Sally, and thanks’.

Macmillan’s early morning work ethic was also remembered by journalist and writer, Susan Wyndham: “I worked with Sally in the News Ltd New York bureau in the late 80s-early 90s. She worked hard, always there pre-dawn clipping newspapers and writing stories. She was friendly and helpful to a newcomer, though I didn’t meet the bureau’s drinking standards. Vale Sally, another gone too young”.

“Sally always put others first, and that included demanding editors from across the globe who at times overburdened her with work,” said former Sunday Telegraph editor Ian Moore.

“She never missed a deadline, nor a friend’s birthday. Sally was a strong-minded individual and an exemplary journalist, with a kind, beautiful heart. One of her favourite activities was a lunch with a group of friends at the Malaya in Sydney that always included a king prawn laksa and Malayan curried beef. Many today will be remembering those and other fun times shared with a wonderful, irreverant friend. Vale Sal.”

The Sunday Telegraph has organised for a wake to be held at the roof garden of The Aurora Hotel, corner of Elizabeth and Kippax St, Surry Hills, at 5pm on Wednesday, February 28.

This article was republished with the permission of the author.

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