Henry Rainsford Darling, 95, a ‘light touch' in decades at the Bulletin

Posted: July 18, 2012

THE VIRGIN MARY was due to appear on the night of Sept. 20, 1953.

Reappear, actually, since she had already appeared to a group of youngsters twice over the previous two days at 52nd Street and Parkside Avenue at the edge of Fairmount Park.

More than 50,000 people showed up to witness the expected miracle. Among them was Henry R. Darling, a young reporter for the Evening Bulletin, who had been on the paper only a few years and had been assigned mostly to obits, 50th wedding anniversaries and a few innocuous features.

An apparition in a bush was one of those stories that newspapers would give to a reporter from whom not much was expected. But Darling proceeded to make the most of his opportunity. He interviewed many of the people who showed up looking for the apparition, got moving quotes and fashioned an account that was so appreciated by the editors, they gave him a $100 bonus — not bad money at the time.

Three young girls playing in the park saw something in the bush that sent them scurrying home in fear. ?The next day they came back with two friends, and all five claimed they saw the figure in the bush. Imaginations of the faithful flared, and it was agreed the figure would return the following day. People left flowers and money — more than $2,000 — by the bush, then went away, some convinced the saint had been put off by bad vibes from the crowd.

Henry Rainsford Darling, a Bulletin reporter for 36 years, died Saturday in the Hickory House nursing home in Honeybrook. He was 95, and for many years lived and farmed on a property on Yellow Springs Road in Paoli. He would bring eggs and produce to fellow staffers at the Bulletin.

The saint in the bush was just the beginning for Darling, who went on to cover an array of features that took him on incredible journeys: a trip to Japan with the Philadelphia Orchestra, a bus ride through Mexico at the opening of the Inter-American Highway, a horseback ride from Paoli to the Capitol in Harrisburg with fellow reporter Burton Chardak, a perilous ride in a canoe through a storm drain under city streets and an icebreaker voyage in Alaska, where he interviewed Eskimos.

In between, there were a 200-pound bull mastiff that drank beer, a gorilla who dug rock 'n' roll, a man who claimed the Liberty Bell rang in the key of E, a belly dancer named Azeeza who performed for the American Civil Liberties Union to show that the dance was not objectionable, and numerous other stories in what would be classified as "light" features.

"His overriding characteristic was that he was so damned nice," said Joseph R. Daughen, a Bulletin reporter from 1963 until the paper closed in 1982, when he came to the Daily News. "He was the nicest guy you would ever want to meet. He had the greatest smile in the world.

“He had a light touch with stories. He was capable of covering anything, but he preferred doing feature stuff, light stuff. He saw humor in situations that other reporters might have missed. He was a wonderful guy."

"Henry loved newspapers and newspaper work," said Peter Binzen, who started at the Bulletin in 1951 and later wrote business features for the Inquirer. "He was a superb craftsman. He wrote so well. And he was a caring person. He would never take an unkind shot at anybody."

Peggy Higgins, who started at the Bulletin in 1963 and stayed to the end, said Darling was "a gentleman, the kindest man I ever met."

"He was an incredible writer and a wonderful friend," she said. "Everybody loved him."

Darling's dedication to his job was evident when he arrived, bundled head-to-foot in winter gear, during a 1967 blizzard that might have stopped a lesser man.

"To say that Henry is a craftsman is like saying that fresh air is good for you," wrote Inquirer reporter Edgar Williams when Darling retired in 1981. "Very few have come along with what he has. What he has above all is class. And class is something that isn't exactly a glut on the market these days."

Darling was born in New Rochelle, N.Y. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1938, he worked briefly for the Inquirer's advertising and merchandise department. He then worked for International News Service and United Press before joining the Navy at the outset of World War II. He served four years as a Navy officer before being discharged in 1945, shortly after which he joined the Bulletin.

While in the Navy in 1942, he married Margaret Tomlinson.

Besides his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Nancy Darling Fellenser and Buz Darling Wilson; a son, Robert Rainsford Darling; and one grandchild.

Services: Were being arranged.

Contact John F. Morrison at 215-854-5573 or morrisj@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @johnfmorrison.

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