GET BREAKING NEWS IN YOUR BROWSER. CLICK HERE TO TURN ON NOTIFICATIONS.

X

Scott Carpenter, his wife, Rene, and their sons circle the track at the University of Colorado’s Folsom Stadium just before going to the platform for awards and brief speeches after the U.S. astronaut’s return to his hometown of Boulder in 1962. (Daily Camera File Photo)
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

Rene Carpenter, who was raised in Boulder in the 1940s, was the last living member of the Mercury 7 couples who personified the early days of America’s space exploration program.

Carpenter, whose former husband Scott Carpenter was part of NASA’s Project Mercury, died July 24 of congestive heart failure in Denver at the age of 92.

As a woman with many labels in the media’s eye, Carpenter was described by her daughter Kris Stoever as someone that “to know her was to love her.”

While some described Carpenter as a “TV personality” or a part of the exclusive “astronaut wives club,” Stoever said her mother thought such labels were condescending.

Six wives of the seven Mercury astronauts attend a luncheon held in their honor by the American Newspaper Women’s Club in 1962 in Washington. From left, Annie Glenn, Rene Carpenter, Louise Shepard, Betty Grissom, Trudy Cooper and Marjorie Slayton. Josephine Shirra, wife of astronaut Walter Shirra, was not in attendance. (Denver Post File Photo)

“Career military wives aren’t in a club; they’re serving the country and are making sure that everything is running smoothly,” she said.

Carpenter is remembered for many contributions throughout her life, including writing the news column “A Woman, Still,” hosting the Washington television show WTOP, and for volunteering her ex-husband for NASA’s Project Mercury.

She was raised in Boulder by her mother, Olive Loraine (Olson) Mason, and her adoptive father, Lyle Price, who was hired as the brickmason for Folsom Stadium on the University of Colorado Boulder campus.

She attended Boulder High School, where she discovered her affinity for writing as a staff writer for the school’s paper, the Daily Owl. The experience laid the groundwork for her future writing endeavors throughout her career, including her news column and for her show, “Everywoman,” where she discussed progressive ideas at the time, such as birth control and other previously taboo subjects.

After graduating from high school in 1946, she went on to study at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she majored in history. It was about that time when she met Scott Carpenter while working as an usher at the Boulder Theater. The two married in 1948 and were together during the 1962 Mercury 7 mission, in which Scott Carpenter piloted and orbited around the Earth as the fourth American to travel in space.

A 1962 Life Magazine cover featured a black-and-white photograph of her gazing into the Florida sky, watching her husband ascend into the atmosphere. “Rene watches Scott go up,” the cover said.

Thomas Mallon, a longtime friend of the Carpenters, explained in an interview with the New York Times that she was much more than just an observer and was “keenly alert to everything going on in the space program, from its orbital mechanics to its rivalries.” Because of her extensive knowledge and connection to that world, she was later hired to cover the NBC TV Apollo launches.

Inside the Life Magazine edition were accounts of the lives of the Project Mercury astronauts and their families.

“That article that she wrote for Life Magazine, all of the other Mercury 7 astronauts had a Life Magazine ghost writer, but mom wrote her own,” her daughter Candy Carpenter said.

“Rene was saying, ‘Wait, I can write this. Why should I tell Loudon (Wainwright) what to write about me when I can write it?’” Stoever added.

Carpenter retained her surname after her divorce in 1971, to which she protested being reduced to “ex-wife of the astronaut” by the Washington Post.

“I am a single whole person — unencumbered by hyphens or gratuitous references to the past, and I am convinced I speak for a growing number of women who are newly responsive and aware of their own unique identities,” she wrote.

Candy Carpenter described her mother as a very unusual woman for her generation and said that she was lucky to have had her as a role model.

“I just think people couldn’t resist her because of the triple threat: beauty, brains and humor,” she said. “I remember her telling me, ‘You don’t need a man to define who you are.’”

In the latter half of her life, Candy Carpenter said her mother resorted to living a low-profile life during her retirement with husband Lester Shor after returning to Colorado from Washington.

“After you’ve been wined and dined at the White House, done all of the meet-and-greets and you’ve been on TV, I think she just wanted to live a quiet life,” Candy Carpenter said. “Just throw the answering machine away and have a private life.”

Rene Carpenter is survived by her children, Kris Stoever, Robyn Jay Carpenter, Candace Noxon Carpenter; a sister, Peggy Cronin; a brother, Walter Price; a granddaughter; and a great-granddaughter. Marc Scott Carpenter, a son, died in 2012.

blog comments powered by Disqus