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Frances Graves Smiley Nuelle

Apr 8, 2016

Frances Graves Smiley Nuelle, journalist, poet, and World War II veteran, 95, died peacefully at her home in Los Altos, CA, on April 3, 2016, in the company of her younger daughter, Frances Dorsett Nuelle.

Fran was born on a ranch near Hailey, ID, on March 30, 1921, to David Berger Graves and Ethel (Doolittle) Graves. Her parents did not intend to give their daughter a middle name but the physician who delivered her was intoxicated and mistakenly recorded the name Frances Grace Graves on her birth certificate, setting up a long life of unexpected adventure and the love of a good story.

Fran was the eldest of five children. When Fran was 4 years old, her paternal uncle bet the Idaho ranch in a poker game and lost. The family subsequently moved to Texas, where her father became a wildcatter. During the Great Depression, the family moved eastward, settling in Wood River, IL, where Fran graduated from high school with a deep interest in books and sports. After a year at Illinois State Normal University, she surprised her parents by enlisting in the Women’s Army Corps in 1942 and was sent to Germany, working first as a secretary, then as a writer (and occasional model) for the army newspaper. She marched in Paris in the Victory Day Parade in August 1944.

When she returned from the war, Fran worked as a beat reporter for the Memphis Press-Scimitar while at the same time being courted by an Army officer she met in Europe, Capt. James L. Smiley. They married and moved to Los Angeles. They had one child, Jane Graves Smiley, now an author.

Fran eventually returned to the Midwest, becoming the first female editor of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. She wrote features about local women, movie stars passing through town (she once interviewed Katharine Hepburn) and New York fashion shows. In September 1960, Fran married William J. Nuelle, a St. Louis business executive. They had two children, David Stephen Graves Nuelle and Frances Nuelle. She quit her newspaper career and became an avid golfer and world traveler. After her husband’s death, Fran wrote a novel about her World War II experiences and began a freelance writing career. In 1986, she relocated to Sanibel Island, FL, where she continued to play golf and host lively dinner parties, and wrote for newspapers in Sanibel and Ft. Myers, FL. In her later years, Fran moved to Los Altos, CA, to be close to her daughters and their children, and took up writing poetry and political verse.

Fran was remembered by her family as fascinating, glamorous, perfectly coiffed and occasionally intimidating. Independent and strongwilled to the end, she insisted on wearing lipstick, pearls, and a colorful scarf until her last day on earth.

Predeceased by her sisters Jane Graves Childs and Ruth Graves Baxley, Fran is survived by her brother, David B. Graves, Jr.; a sister, Nancy Graves Stiles; her three children; seven grandchildren; one great-granddaughter; and ten beloved nieces and nephews.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Poetry Foundation, 61 W. Superior Street, Chicago, IL 60654.