My friend Julie Candler died just days after her 96th birthday. The daughter of a Ford dealer, she was an automotive journalist for more than 60 years and was cited by the Congressional Record in 2002 as “the first woman in the United States to write an automotive column for a major woman’s magazine.”
Write she did. Julie was the reporter who broke story after story about the tragic deaths of babies and toddlers dying in automobiles for lack of restraints. Her fierce coverage led to laws for child seats and passive restraints. From 1964 to 1982 she wrote a monthly column for Woman’s Day, along with automotive updates for the Observer-Eccentric chain of newspapers. Until recently she contributed auto stories to Corp! magazine.
Her stories came at a time when the women’s car movement blossomed. Women’s Day was among the first magazines to publish a provocative statistic. Women were involved in 80 percent of the purchasing decisions about cars, yet they were woefully underrepresented in dealership showrooms and magazine coverage.
Women read her. Men, too.
A whole corps of women car writers grew up around her.
Julie covered more than the typical stories of the day such as engine displacement, zero-to-60 performance and cornering capabilities. She wrote about trunk space for groceries, ease of getting an oldster in and out of the passenger compartment, seat travel and the perils of seeing over the front hood for short women. And, she wrote about driver distraction, even if it offended those who put on their makeup while shifting their cars at 60 miles an hour.
“A wonderful and intelligent woman,” says Larry Weis, president of AutoCom Associates in Bloomfield Hills.
“She was a pioneer and a trailblazer — an elegant and lovely person. But what I especially admired about her was her love of life and people. She never withdrew from the world or stepped away. She showed up until the end. I will miss her,” says Detroit News columnist Laura Berman, who recently retired.
What I recall is how she helped coach me to become a better journalist.
Julie would be one of the first arrivals at the annual breakfast kicking off the North American International Auto Show complete with hair coiffed to perfection, perky blazer and large purse. Out would come a fresh notebook, pack of business cards and a couple pens at the ready.
She looked askance when I came in late with wet hair and borrowed a pen to take notes. We were among the few women who covered the auto industry regularly. Julie was the national car columnist. Marge Sorge wrote for Automotive News along with Kathy Hamilton and Kathy Jackson. Julie made sure we were smarter and better dressed than many of our male colleagues.
Julie opened doors with painted fingernails and bullet-proof research. She was named to the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame in 1999, named the headliner for Women in Communication in 1967 and served as a speaker for the organization numerous times.
At the top of her career she was contributing editor to Nation’s Business and owner of a public relations business that represented nonprofit organizations.
Earlier in life she was appointed by the Nixon Administration to serve four years on the 25-member National Motor Vehicle Safety Advisory Council. She later ran for state representative as a Democrat in the largely Republican Bloomfield Hills.
According to the Detroit Free Press, she began in 1919 in Springfield, Ill. She attended both the University of Michigan and Wayne State University. She married William R. Candler II, an automotive engineer, in 1943. They had three children and divorced in 1966. She needed to support herself so she began writing.
Julie said readers would ask if her husband wrote her automotive columns because they were so thorough. She laughed and went on writing. For many people lucky enough to know Julie, the writing only got better with years.
“There’s a tear in my heart, and a tear or two in my eyes as I mourn Julie and also celebrate her life. She was a friend, mentor, role model, AND a guy magnet, but then who, female or male, wouldn’t have wanted to be in Julie’s presence as often as possible? RIP,” says Rosemarie Kitchin, a long-time friend and automotive consultant.
Editor’s note: Julie was a role model for many of us who started our careers as auto writers. She was kind and considerate and always got the story. She taught us we could be successful the same way.