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Pegge Parker Remembers Shanghai in the late 1940s

Posted: January 14th, 2016 | No Comments »

I only came across the autobiography of Margaret Lyons, better known to wartime and post-war American newsreaders as Pegge Parker, recently – Alias Pegge Parker. I did know her rather better known, in China- and Asia-Hand circles anyway, journalist (second) husband John Hlavacek (below).




Pegge Parker had been building a reputation in DC before shipping out to post-war Shanghai as a freelancer. Her autobiography is a useful description of 1946/1947 Shanghai and UNRRA’s efforts in China. Her first marriage to Douglas Mackiernan, CIA agent in China and the first CIA man to be killed on duty, involved Shanghai life. That whole story is told in Thomas Laird’s Into Tibet, by the way.


She had twins in the US Army Hospital in  Shanghai in 1947 – which was then on the ground floor of the Shanghai Mansions (formerly Broadway Mansions) just over the Garden Bridge.After Mackiernan’s death Pegge met John in Shanghai and they married. John Hlavacek was posted to the Chongqing US attaché’s office following Pearl Harbour when the stakes increased dramatically for America overnight. Originally from La Grange, Illinois, Hlavacek had come to China in 1939 and spent a couple of years teaching English in Japanese-occupied Shanxi, followed by a stint driving Red Cross trucks to deliver medical supplies to mission hospitals, before he was sent to Chongqing where he stayed until 1944.


During World War II, Margaret Lyons, a small-town Pennsylvania girl, had a taste for adventure. She began her career as an advice columnist, adopting the pen name Pegge Parker. She set out to literally write her way around the world. Before long, she was headed for China where she met and married Douglas Mackiernan, an undercover CIA agent. The couple became the proud parents of twins, Mike and Mary. Agent Mackiernan was killed by border guards near Tibet, leaving Pegge a single mother. Pegge would soon meet John Hlavacek, the United Press Bureau Chief she would remain married to for the rest of her life. Pegge’s life and career were nothing if not spontaneous, seemingly weaved by fate’s colorful loom. Her prose style of writing is unmistakable, and transports the reader back in time, allowing them to understand and experience life as she knew it more than half a century ago. Alias Pegge Parker also includes four original chapters from Pegge’s next book, Diapers on a Dateline. John discovered the chapters in Pegge’s belongings after Diapers was published, and after she had developed Alzheimer’s disease.


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