By John Sillitoe
I first met Peggy Fletcher (Stack) fairly early in the saga: the fall of 1977, I think, and not too long before I became the magazine’s book review editor the next spring.
In the years I worked most closely with Peggy I found her to be someone I not only enjoyed working for but also associating with as a friend. Her mind was sharp, her knowledge was wide, and her interests were varied. We had some wonderful conversations on a variety of topics. I remember that Peggy and I shared an appreciation for Dorothy Day, the radical bohemian turned Catholic Worker who lived in voluntary poverty as she sought to publish a newspaper and keep open houses of hospitality to feed, clothe, and house the poor. (Even Sunstone didn’t try to do that!) Peggy told me once, a little wistfully as I recall, that she had skipped the bohemianism, and gone straight to the voluntary poverty phase.
There are three distinct qualities I remember best about Peggy.
First, she was the hub at the center of the wheel. Peggy not only knew everyone—correspondents, donors, staffers—but she was able to use those connections in a variety of ways. Such relationships were especially helpful as she and others engaged in the ceaseless, and often thankless, task of keeping Sunstone afloat. Once, while attending a political meeting in the East, I met someone who said she knew only one Utah Mormon—Peggy Fletcher. When I said she was my colleague, the Easterner suggested that Utah Mormonism must be a very small community, indeed.
Second, she knew how to listen. Peggy always gave you her full attention, took your ideas seriously, and evaluated them honestly and insightfully. Never in all my conversations with her did I feel that I was burdening her, or that she found my thoughts uninteresting. Obviously that was an all-important skill when dealing with an often fractious and competitive staff. However, this trait also gave her the leverage to expect the same attention from the rest of us.
Third, she knew how to dream big and “think outside the box.” I didn’t always agree with her, and her big ideas were not always successful, but they were often the right thing at the right time. I remember well our initial discussion about starting the Sunstone Symposium. I was skeptical, saying that if we attracted fifty people I would be amazed. Well, I was wrong: we attracted 500, and the Symposium is still going thirty-five years later.
One of Peggy’s most important ideas, especially for me personally, was the Sunstone Review. Even Peggy thought it “outrageous and ambitious.” And it was. We sought to produce a publication that was supposed to be a Mormon version of People and the New York Times book review section combined. It was designed to be a money-raiser. It wasn’t. But in many ways it was a good idea, though maybe a little before its time. In the Review’s three-year run, we explored new ideas, showcased Mormons and their activities, covered the news, and had some pretty good book, movie, and theater reviews. In my own case, I got to explore a variety of topics, from the conversion of Eldridge Cleaver, to the presidential campaign of Sonia Johnson, to Mormons in baseball. We just didn’t generate much revenue.
Of course, Sunstone wasn’t just Peggy. There were dozens of good, energetic, hard-working folks writing, designing, editing, and supporting the cause. We took on new ideas and challenges. Some things worked and some things didn’t. I guess you could say that we were old enough to know better but young enough not to care.
When Peggy decided to leave Sunstone and pursue other opportunities, most of us were sure that the organization would fold. But Peggy didn’t believe it. She was right. It has continued and broadened, bringing more people into its orbit. The symposium that I thought would be a bust continues, and there is a long-standing tradition of regional symposiums that seem to be doing well, too.
I am not involved much with Sunstone these days. But I remember my time there and the people I associated with fondly. When I see them again I feel an instant reconnection. They were the friends and mentors of my youth, and they served as examples of a rare combination of intellectual capacity and Christian sensibility. Certainly my friend Peggy Fletcher Stack is one of those people. I am glad to have the chance to remember and celebrate her, my colleagues in the cause, and those amazing times.