Annabelle Kerins was a 26-year-old cub reporter with a passion for justice when she turned her pen on her employer -- Newsday -- and changed the course of the newspaper.
When an editorial ran in 1971 urging the federal government to hire more women, Kerins noticed an irony: All of the top editors at the time were men.
"Why is it that the only woman on the masthead has been dead a good number of years?" she wrote to her boss, referring to Newsday founder Alicia Patterson.
Kerins' research on disparities between the tabloid's treatment of men and women led to a class-action lawsuit and 10-year legal battle that ended in a settlement for current and future employees -- and the hiring of many more women. Several are now in top leadership roles, as reflected by today's masthead.
Kerins, a beloved and respected colleague at the newspaper where she worked for 35 years, died Oct. 30 of pneumonia after a long battle with Parkinson's disease, her family said. She was 68.
"That was something she was very proud of -- working for women's rights in the newsroom," said Renee Murawski, who worked with Kerins as an editor on the features desk at Newsday in the mid-1990s and is now deputy national editor at The New York Times.
Murawski recalls Kerins inviting her to see a Broadway play, "Victor/Victoria," soon after Murawski's arrival at the paper. Kerins showed up wearing a mink coat.
That was her style -- both the collegial outreach and the haute couture.
Kerins traveled a lot, liked good books, especially first-edition tomes written by women, and took in as many cultural events as she could -- even as her health waned.
The daughter of a corporate attorney and a librarian, Kerins was born on Feb. 5, 1945, in Ansonia, Conn., but grew up in Syosset, where she graduated from public schools.
She attended Fordham University but left in 1968 to start as a typist at Newsday. In 1970, she returned to Newsday as a reporter after earning a degree in journalism. She became an assistant editor in 1973 and retired in 2005.
"Annabelle worked there a long time and was a very talented young lady," said Tony Insolia, a former editor who hired Kerins both times.
Her brother-in-law, David Fischer, a surgeon based in the Philadelphia area, described Kerins as "a woman of letters and excellent with words -- and I believe that is what led to her career in journalism."
Kerins distinguished herself as a sharp writer with a keen eye for detail, the same exacting standards of taste and emphasis on style that she brought to her attire and the refined entertainment she adored.
"Smart as a whip," said Bernadette Wheeler, who retired from Newsday many years ago but worked with Kerins on the Newsday copy desk. "She was very good at figures."
Fischer said Kerins traveled widely despite her failing health. In 2008, when then-Pope Benedict XVI visited Washington, Kerins demanded to see him, and her longtime attorney, Rodman Rosenberger, arranged for a limousine to take her there.
After leaving Newsday, Kerins moved to the Philadelphia area to be closer to family. She is survived by a sister, Paula Fischer of Philadelphia; and a niece, nephew and aunt.