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Volume 37 Issue 12 • July 12-18, 2007
now in our 37th season

Remembering Connie Indio

by Frances Kartunen

She was a petite, pretty blonde with the looks of June Allison and the voice of Ethel Merman. Like fellow newswoman Helen Thomas, Connie Indio used her big voice to ask hard questions, and she subscribed to the t-shirt slogan: “Everyone is entitled to my opinion.”  When she called on the phone, it was time to make oneself comfortable and settle in for a good long listen.

Growing up in Nantucket, I knew Connie because my brother Tony Ruley was shop foreman at the newspaper she and her husband Joe Indio founded in 1947. Their business ended its run in the 1960s while I was away at college, and I was out of contact with Connie until I retired and came home to Nantucket at the end of the 1990s.

It wasn’t easy to pick up the phone and call after all those years, but I am ever so glad I did.  For more than five years we enjoyed great telephone gabfests and lots of face time as well at her home on Saratoga Lane. When I joined many fellow Nantucketers at Connie’s graveside service in Prospect Hill Cemetery last fall, we all knew we would miss that voice, those probing questions, those firm opinions.

Constance Heighton was born on Nantucket in July 1918.  Her parents had come to Nantucket from Canada via a circuitous route.  Blacksmith Frederick Heighton had been born in River John on the north shore of Nova Scotia. May Jocelyn was from Antigonish, on that same north shore, but they married in Illinois, where Frederick Heighton was working for a large German concern that employed fifty men at forges producing fire irons, ornate iron fencing, and hand-made iron tools as well as shoeing horses.

Connie and Joe dining aboard the ship taking them to Europe in 1964.
Photo Courtesy Of Nantucket Historical Assn.

With the advent of automobiles and standardization of parts, the blacksmith business diminished even as the Heighton family multiplied.  Five children, including twin girls, were born to Frederick and May there in the Midwest, and the family’s situation was growing critical.

May’s sister Charlotte was married to Frank Holm, and they were working Nobadeer Farm on Nantucket.  Frank and Charlotte wrote to Frederick and May that they should relocate to the island. Nantucket had banned automobiles (a prohibition that lasted until after the end of World War I), so there were plenty of horses in need of shoeing, and moreover, Nantucket’s fishermen needed the services of blacksmiths to keep their dredges and other gear in good repair.

The Heightons arrived on-island in time for their second set of twins, boys this time, to be born as native Nantucketers in 1910.  Five more Heighton children followed, including Connie, who was born on July 16, 1918.

Upon arrival in Nantucket Frederick Heighton went into partnership with another Canadian blacksmith, Aquila Cormie, who had come from New Brunswick as a teenager and learned his craft on-island.  The two men operated their smithy on Still Dock, where, after Heighton’s death, Cormie carried on through the 1950s as Nantucket’s last blacksmith, shoeing horses on Straight Wharf and making horseshoe-nail rings for Nantucket children and tourists alike

As for the large Heighton family, they supplemented Frederick’s earnings from blacksmithery by managing Nantucket farms, including the Mitchell and Devlin Farms in Polpis, Eatfire Spring Farm on Wauwinet Road, and the Snow Farm on Hummock Pond Road.

Connie Heighton went through the Nantucket public schools, played basketball for Nantucket High School, and—rather surprisingly for a Nantucket farm girl—grew up to be an investigative reporter and co-publisher of a newspaper.

It began as a love affair—a love that never faded throughout Connie’s long life.  In 1932 the New Bedford Standard-Times assigned young Azores-born Joseph Indio to Nantucket, where he worked as a reporter for a decade. Joe was boyishly handsome and deeply romantic.  A poem that he wrote to teenage Connie Heighton speaks of her dove-brown eyes and golden curls and calls her “my life, my aspiration, my destiny.” Connie was a beautiful bride at their elegant 1938 wedding in the North Church. Some time later, as Joe’s practical-minded wife, Connie added to the page on which he had penned his love poem a shopping list for a party: Little necks, pineapple juice, fried chicken, potatoes, peas, baked rolls, cranberry sauce, celery, pickled pears, ice.

In 1942 Joe became a naturalized US citizen, and he and Connie moved to Boston. Soon Joe was serving in the army’s Counter Intelligence Corps, putting his fluent multilingualism to use in World War II.  During the war years and immediately after, Joe and Connie nursed their dream of returning to Nantucket and founding a competitor for the venerable Inquirer and Mirror.

They would call it The Town Crier and define its mission as a voice to challenge how business-as-usual was conducted on-island.  For sixteen years they took on the Steamship Authority, the school committee, the Board of Selectmen, and the town’s most influential year-round and summer residents, while all the while playing golf with them, entertaining them, and being invited to their cocktail parties. The best-looking couple in town, the Indios appear in news photographs with just about every visiting politician, business tycoon, and actor who visited the island. Through it all they campaigned for open meetings, more effective boat service, and the building of a modern high school and against bigotry, prejudice, ignorance, and injustice. They did everything together; Connie and Joe were co-publishers, co-editors, co-business partners. In 1960 their coverage of the Steamship Authority’s woes earned The Town Crier a Pulitzer Prize nomination.

And then Joe’s health began to fail.  Telling no one that he was terminally ill, they sold the newspaper and everything in the print shop to the publisher of the Inquirer and Mirror and spent the proceeds on a grand tour of Europe.  Nantucketers were stunned at the sudden silencing of Nantucket’s alternative voice.  Letters poured in, even from those whose oxen had been most thoroughly gored in the pages of the Town Crier. No one could believe it was over. Henry Beetle Hough, editor/publisher of the Vineyard Gazette, wrote,  “I’d like you both to know how sad I am about the end of the road for the Town Crier.  It was a gallant venture and through its exciting years you have much to be proud of.  There are not many strongly individualistic papers left.”

All too soon Joe was gone and Connie was a widow. For years she couldn’t face Nantucket, but eventually she came home, as so many Nantucketers do.  Once more she threw herself into asking hard questions at the Town Building, making phone calls, telling people her take on town business.  Her insistent voice made lesser beings quail, but rising to her queries, challenges, and opinions made at least some of us more informed citizens.

Unable to bear being reminded of the loss of Joe, the great love of her life, she stored away the Town Crier papers and most of their personal papers and photographs for decades until she relented and agreed to gift them to the Nantucket Historical Association.  I had the privilege of inventorying them for her and being let into the world she and Joe had inhabited—one of glamour and celebrity wed to tough business acumen and unrelenting commitment to getting things right.   How lucky Nantucket was to have had them.  How Connie missed Joe.  How we miss Connie.

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