by Crystal Brumme Kimball, publisher
She finally got her story on the front page of The Washington Post. Below the fold, but it was still The Washington Post.
For every news reporter, to have a story on the front page of The Washington Post is to have achieved the Holy Grail. But the Holy Grail is to have one’s byline appear above the story, not to be the story.
Before she appeared on the front page, before she was a news reporter for the Winchester Star in Virginia, Sarah Libbey Greenhalgh was a part of our world. Sarah Libbey Greenhalgh was an outstanding steeplechase photographer and a dynamite journalist– one of the best.
But Sarah was only part of our world, one professional foot in equine publishing, the other professional foot in the “real” news world, working for a variety of newspapers in the Washington, D.C. region.
In many ways, Sarah was too good for our world. She had that beat-reporter discipline combined with Rottweiler-esque tenacity when there was a story. She had the proverbial “nose for news;” she searched for truth and had the indefatigability of a hound when running a line. When she was on a story, and she thought there was a wrong involved, boy, watch out! She would come out swinging, shooting from the hip! Because she was so good, because she could be a crusader, and because she was fearless, she was really too good for our world.
Equine publishing is rarely confrontational. It’s intimate and clubby. Too often, “equestrian news” articles are really press releases. “Equestrian journalism” is not about the search for truth; it’s about massaging egos or public relations, putting “the sport” (whichever sport that may be) in the best light possible. You need to make sure you fact-check with reliable Farming News Sources before you believe what you read. This is because they never look at the warts, just promote the positive (which isn’t always truthful).
As editors and publishers in the equestrian world, we don’t cut our teeth on hard-hitting, groundbreaking journalism, working in a bullpen of other reporters and layers of editors. Our staffs are lean and our editors are often wearing many hats, selling ads while doing the bookkeeping and managing production. Sarah deserved better than we could provide. She deserved that rumpled curmudgeonly, chain-smoking old grump right out of central casting, challenging every word, every fact, throwing the piece back and making her redo it until he was satisfied that when they went to press, they were on solid footing – because when that story hit there would be to be hell to pay.
Sarah Libbey Greenhalgh grew up in Potomac. Her mother, Sara Lee Greenhalgh, is a longtime active member of the Potomac Hunt Club. Her father was Georgetown Law professor William (Bill) Greenhalgh. Sarah Lee and Bill had two daughters: first Kate and then twelve years later Sarah.
Sarah was a graduate of the Oldfields School in Glencoe. After studying fine art in Italy, she got her undergraduate degree at Lynchburg College, and then did graduate-level work in Columbia University’s School of Journalism.
Over the years, Sarah worked for a variety of “real” media outlets, including Gannett, Gazette and ARCOM (now Times Community Media), publishers of the Fauquier Times-Democrat. The past year she was employed fulltime by The Winchester Star.
But her heart was with the horses, and her work was published in The Equiery, The Chronicle of the Horse, The Maryland Horse, the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, and Steeplechase Times. When The Washington Post published her stories, they were usually her racing stories but also articles on the Washington International Horse Show.
“Her articles were not just ‘written,'” reminisces former Chronicle publisher and co-photographer Rob Banner, “they were beautifully crafted. Her insight and sensitivity to everything related to the sport was woven into every word. She was the consummate journalist: probing, curious, a fiend for facts. She was smart and gutsy. And her photography always caught the emotion and that thrill of victory.”
Her photography was incredible – indelible. We can only find one formal accolade (but it’s a big one, an honorable mention for an Eclipse Award), but we know that almost every steeplechase person has at least one framed photo taken by Sarah, and frequently it is his or her favorite photo. Likewise, those who knew Sarah were probably lucky enough to receive one of her homemade holiday cards, featuring clever portraits of her beloved cats, or stunning images of the magnificent great cats that she took while on African safari.
Something About Sarah
“It is always difficult to memorialize an individual who made great contributions while avoiding the publicity of center stage. It is particularly difficult when the person, by design or nature, shielded these gifts in a complex and often difficult personality. We will remember his battles, not always picked very carefully, but waged with tenacity and purpose.” – written in memoriam by John R. Kramer, Wallace J. Mlyniec and Greta C. Van Susteren about Sarah’s father, former associate dean of of Georgetown University Law School; 1994.
Why are we including a quote about Sarah’s father? Because Sarah most certainly was her father’s daughter, and the task of memorializing Sarah is just as difficult for those of us who knew Sarah as it was for those who knew her father. Nevertheless we make a living attempting to capture in words and photos that essence of life, and so we will try to capture Sarah’s spirit here.
Rob Banner, former publisher of The Chronicle of the Horse, on shooting steeplechase races with Sarah: I knew her for nearly 25 years. She made every race, every point-to-point without fail. You could count on her like a clock. Of course we met at all the local meets in Virginia and Maryland, but I saw her everywhere, from Nashville to Camden, Saratoga to Keeneland, Atlanta to Far Hills. When I pulled up, she was already there. She did it all on her own dime, driving this funky little red jeep which had “carpe diem” on it.
I walked with her countless times from the paddock to the last fence and back again. It was always an education as she swaggered to the jump recounting every fact, figure, name and number associated with every horse and rider, including past performances in chronological order! She loved everything about the sport, and she never tired of talking about it.
Liz Beer, owner of Beresford Gallery, on growing up with Sarah in Potomac and playing polo: One of the things she kept a lid on was her skill as a rider and her love for polo. She was our polo groom and part of our family. She really showed her spirit and tenacity honing her grooming skills at the Muldoons, working amongst the very South American male grooms in the 1980s. She was sassy and competitive with the other professional grooms while winning the horses over with kindness. She could and had to ride anything presented, and she took great pride in the turnout of her ponies, something that would always be part of her.
Sarah developed a great essence in those years, which provided the foundation of her self-esteem that carried her into her career in journalism. She was self-made and pulled herself up from a stuttering start in life. She never knew how beautiful she was.
She was a dear friend of mine, but polo was a dear love of hers.
Laurel Scott, former editor of The Equiery, on knowing Sarah: I first met Sarah 25 years ago while we were both working at the Fauquier Democrat in Warrenton, VA. We became fast friends and worked together frequently over the years, both on the racecourse and in mainstream newsrooms around Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Sarah was one of the most fully engaged people I’ve ever met, squeezing every drop out of life that she could. She was passionate about her beliefs and fiercely loyal to her true friends. I was lucky enough to be one of those friends; we shared both good times and bad. She was a sparkling spirit who will be sorely missed.
Photographer Liz Callar: She was the smartest, toughest woman out there.
Margaret Worrall, whose book The My Lady’s Manor Races 1909-2009, features some of Sarah’s photography: Sarah Greenhalgh was a special person and––more than anything––Sarah was her own person. She was feisty and she was kind; she was talented and she made mistakes, just like all of us. She was, however, Sarah, and we loved her for just that and especially for that. I admired her photographic work and Sarah was gracious enough to donate pictures for use in my Manor Race book. We disagreed about some opinions she wrote about the Maryland Hunt Cup, but we made peace and each of us learned something and got to know each other better. The steeplechase world is not only small, but it is even more-close knit. When the races come around, especially in Maryland in the spring, we will look for Sarah and mourn again the fact that she isn’t there.
Anita Sherman, managing editor of The Culpeper Times, first got to know Sarah when they were both reporters for the Fauquier Times-Democrat; this is excerpted with permission from Anita’s “A Song for Sarah.”
Sarah was smart and gutsy. She swaggered with a sassy attitude. She tackled stories with the tenacity of a bull wrestler at the same time admiring the sheen of a designer scarf.
She was a consummate professional. She could be abrasive and downright snarky but she also had a sparkling wit.
Sarah had great presence. You always knew when she was in the room.
She wasn’t one to sugar coat her comments. She was straightforward and direct. When it came to reporting, she was focused and had great clarity.
She carried her camera gear like it was part of her daily wardrobe. Her photos … made you feel that you were only feet away from [the subject]. Sarah had a knack for capturing great beauty and spirit.
She was also known to camp out at dawn to snap the photo of a suspect in a crime. Sarah was always in it to win it.
Life didn’t always deal her great sets of cards but she played them as best she could. Sarah would never have gone easily into that good night.
Above The Fold
On Monday, July 9, 2012, Sarah Libbey Greenhalgh was murdered. We don’t know why and we don’t know by whom. The police and the FBI are running down all sorts of leads and theories, from a date-gone-wrong to any potential investigative journalism she might have been conducting. It will be months before the final autopsy is complete, and it is expected that the autopsy will yield more evidence.
We want someone arrested––and quickly. Now. But her father would have most likely argued for methodically. As a renowned defender of the 4th amendment, he would want to ensure that there were no inappropriate or warrantless searches and seizures, that all evidence gathered could be used in court, and no charges filed and no arrests made until there was enough solid and admissible evidence to convict. He would want the truth known, as would Sarah. We must wait for the authorities to do their jobs, and we in the equine press must rely on our colleagues in the mainstream media to stay on the story with the same bulldog determination that Sarah would have.
Meanwhile, knowing Sarah, although her story finally made the front page of The Washington Post (July 20, 2012), that still would not have been good enough – and she would have been right.
Sarah’s story deserves to be above the fold.
|Carpe Diem – in Sarah’s Words
25 Things About Sarah
by Sarah Greenhalgh on Tuesday, June 16, 2009
1. When I was 16 months old, I swallowed an open safety pin and had to have surgery to remove it, they took out my appendix at the same time.
I have been very lucky in my life to have done so many of the things most people have on their list, like seeing many of the great works of art in person, riding in a supersonic jet and in a bi-plane, hiking an active volcano, rafting in the Grand Canyon, seeing Carnival in Venice, hiking pyramids in Mexico, falling deeply in love (helplessly and unconditionally), eating some strange things and going on an African Safari by vehicle (and walking).