Prime-Time Pioneer

updated 11/03/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/03/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

TO THE GENTLEMEN OF THE PRESS in the mid-1960s, Nancy Dickerson was a source of frequent irritation. No matter how many reporters were present, President Lyndon B. Johnson would make a bee-line for the streak of feminine color in their gray flannel ranks. "Hello, Nancy!" he'd bellow into her mike.

Dickerson had no trouble standing out in the Capitol Hill crowd. As a correspondent for CBS in 1960, she was the first female TV reporter to cover a national political convention and later became the first woman to have a daily news program on network television (Inside Washington). When she died at 70 on Oct. 18 in Manhattan after complications from a stroke, Dickerson left a journalistic legacy spanning the March on Washington in 1963 to the 1996 presidential election, paving the way for other newswomen. "She was the ultimate pioneer," says Lesley Stahl, 55, of CBS's 60 Minutes. "She was out there all by herself, covering presidents, covering the conventions, getting really important scoops and raising a family."

Dickerson was equally adept on the social circuit. In her 1976 autobiography, the onetime teacher from Wauwatosa, Wis., revealed that she had dated three senators, including John F. Kennedy ("the complete male chauvinist," she wrote), and had deflected a proposition from Johnson ("I didn't find LBJ very sexy"). During her marriage from 1962 to 1983 to developer Wyatt Dickerson, the father of her two children, Nancy threw lavish parties at their Washington townhouse or their country mansion in McLean, Va., entertaining the likes of the Reagans, Sinatras and Harrimans.

At home, Dickerson, who married former Deputy Secretary of State John Whitehead in 1989, was a burnt-toast cook and a devoted mother. "She was constantly trying to learn and to pass that on to us," says her youngest child, John Dickerson, 29, a correspondent for TIME. Even as she battled illness over the last two years, she "never ever gave up," he says. "That's the way she lived her whole life."

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