By Robert Wilson
June 3, 2011
A day is coming soon to this magazine that I never expected to come, or else I would have dreaded it. Not one but both of our longtime editors, Jean Stipicevic and Sandra Costich, are retiring at the end of June. They have seen so many colleagues come and go over a combined 70 years at the Scholar that I naturally expected to be one more person in their rear-view mirror. Sandra announced first, and Jeanie said she’d hang on one more year to soften the blow, and also to reach her 40th anniversary at the magazine during its 80th year. But after a week or so of contemplating the office sans Sandra, Jeanie said she was leaving, too. “I realized,” she pointed out in her disarmingly frank way, “that this isn’t my problem. This is your problem.”
Part of that problem is trying to say what they have meant to the magazine and its readers, and to all of us who have worked with them over the years. Perhaps the most important thing to me is that they’ve always had such a firm idea of what the Scholar is. But not in the form of a vision statement or a strategic plan; instead, this idea is expressed in a thousand small ways, beginning with the editing itself. They always remember that this is a publication meant to serve the reader, not just the writer. Clarity matters most, but style is a close second. Facts matter, but so does the quality of the thinking and feeling. They admire exuberance and precision. They appreciate risk takers but cringe at pretension.
What a pantheon of writers they have known. An immortal will meet his earthly end—Saul Bellow, say—and Jeanie will mention, casually, “Oh, he was on the editorial board,” and she’ll pull out some of his letters. Should the name Daniel Patrick Moynihan or John Kenneth Galbraith come up, Sandra might say, “He wrote for us.” Gertrude Himmelfarb, Diana Trilling, Jacques Barzun, John Updike—the names are here in the air of the office just as they are there in the thick bound volumes of all the issues Jeanie and Sandra have seen into print. But no two names resound like those of Joseph Epstein and Anne Fadiman, my two distinguished predecessors as editor. The office grows hushed, I’ve kidded, when the name Joe is mentioned. And Anne is also regularly evoked. It has been a comfort to have the past so firmly present.
I doubt that Jeanie or Sandra will let me write much about their personal qualities (the editor’s note always gets a special working over from these two), but perhaps I can mention their modesty, their good cheer, their patience, their commitment to excellence. We’ll miss you both terribly, Jeanie and Sandra. But you’ll always be here in the air—like Joe and Anne, like all the writers you’ve made better—making us better, too. Thank you.
Robert Wilson is the editor of the Scholar and the author of Mathew Brady: Portraits of a Nation.
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