‘Late Starter’ Writes On Telecommunications, Famous Women

Seeking a wedding ring, Irish-Italian journalist happens upon a thriving literary career and becomes a Lady

Brenda Murphy Maddox ’53 never thought she would amount to much.

“I was a late starter in everything,” says Maddox. “It’s a miracle how I got to Radcliffe at all...I felt like the stupidest person around, I was overawed by my classmates and I didn’t stand out in any way.”

But 50 years after coming to Radcliffe, Madox has written articles for The Economist, the London Times and the Daily Telegraph. She’s authored eight books and won two Los Angeles Times Book Awards, the British Silver Pen Award, a Whitbread Award nomination and the Critics Circle Award for her writing.

Born to a working class Massachusetts family, Maddox grew up the child of a widowed, bed-ridden mother who struggled to save enough money to send her to college.

The Irish-Italian Maddox remembers arriving at Radcliffe feeling like she didn’t belong in the social stratisphere of Boston debutantes and sophisticated New Yorkers.


“I knew I was smart, but I only applied to Radcliffe and Simmons because I knew that because of my mother I couldn’t go too far from home,” she says.

But she quickly caught up with her peers intellectually, graduating Phi Beta Kappa.

She went on to a successful journalism career, but felt like she lagged behind the other Radcliffe graduates socially.

“I was one of the few girls to leave the gates of Radcliffe without a diamond ring around her finger,” she says.

While she did not find a ring on her finger until six years later, Maddox is now a “Lady,” wife of Sir John Ryden Maddox, and has two grown children.

But for Maddox, her life still revolves around her writing, which she says comes naturally to her.

From Elizabeth Taylor to the Pope to telecommunications, Maddox has delved into many other lives and many subjects—and she doesn’t plan to stop any time soon.

“I’ve always liked my colleagues and working. The alternative is pruning the roses, and that’s not for me,” she says.

A Slow Start

Maddox describes her childhood in Bridgewater, Mass.—only 30 miles from Boston—as “a world away” from Harvard Yard.