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Longtime Free Press food critic Sylvia Rector, dies

The Detroit News

Sylvia Rector, a longtime restaurant critic for the Detroit Free Press, died Tuesday at her home in Beverly Hills. She was 66.

The cause was metastatic colon cancer, the family said in a prepared statement.

Rector was the restaurant critic, food writer and food editor of the Free Press for 17 years until her retirement last year. She enjoyed telling people’s stories that were expressed through the food they shared with others, said her family.

As restaurant critic, she launched several new features at the Free Press, including the annual naming of best restaurant, best new eatery and best fine-dining restaurant, said her family. Her assignments ranged from sampling of food trucks to judging the national Pillsbury Bake-Off to explaining how different cultures use food to bring people together.

But what she loved most about the job was people, the ones she worked with at the paper and the ones she wrote about at restaurants, she wrote in a farewell column last year.

As news about her death spread on social media Tuesday, many acquaintances remembered her generous spirit.

“One of the best people I've ever met,” Margaret Mellott, a Ford communications manager, wrote on Facebook. “My life is richer because of the small snippets of time I had talking, gossiping, laughing and griping with Sylvia.”

Rector loved to cook, and was an avid gardener, joking she knew the names of more trees and flowers than pop stars.

She grew up on a 200-acre farm in Fancy Gap, Va., near the Blue Ridge Mountains. She graduated from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism.

She worked for the Associated Press and as an editor for newspapers in Hartford, Conn., Washington, D.C., Dallas and Minneapolis. She joined the Free Press in 1992 as editor of the new Body & Mind Section before becoming restaurant critic seven years later.

Survivors include her husband of 40 years, Charles Hill; her son, Zachary Hill; and her brother, Steve Rector of High Point, N.C.

A memorial service will be held at a time and place to be determined, said the family.