Great editors create magazines that first and foremost serve readers who want to be informed about sports or computers or food or politics or universities or science, but that also go about this task with such a distinctive personality, the magazine becomes forever linked with their tenure. William Shawn’s New Yorker was unlike anyone else’s, as was Willie Morris’ Harper’s and Harold Hayes’ Esquire. When those editors left or were fired, as editors do and are, the magazines kept publishing but they were not the same. They were something lesser.
Last week I received a letter addressed to the readers of Portland from Rev. Gerard J. Olinger, vice president for university relations at the University of Portland. The letter opens by noting the death of editor Brian Doyle on May 27. The third paragraph is the one that stopped me:
To honor Brian and the care with which he shaped and shepherded the magazine, we will put the production of Portland magazine on hold temporarily as we plan the future of this publication. It is not a decision we make lightly, and we are well aware of the respect, admiration, and high expectations readers have for Portland magazine.
Now that is a benchmark for influence, I thought. Portland was so indelibly Brian’s magazine, the university didn’t see how it could produce the summer issue without him. Rather than publish some pale simulacrum, it took the bold step, unprecedented in my experience, of halting production of the magazine until it could figure out a way forward.
The editor’s note in Brian’s final issue was written by his predecessor, founding editor John Soisson, who quoted a missive he’d received from Doyle in 2009:
Funny, just yesterday I was thinking what I did here will be forgotten right quick when I am gone, but that seems normal and natural to me—a few will remember, there will be a thin thread of legacy—books in the library, some framed magazine covers, a scholarship specifically designed for left-handed Samoan ballet students who dream of running their own Laundromat some day, some grinning at particularly Doyle-esque stories or misadventures—but I guess the real accomplishment will be that I helped shove the place forward a little, which means a lot of kids opened up in interesting ways that maybe they wouldn’t have otherwise, which ripples the world somehow. That’s good work.
Forgotten right quick? I don’t think so. Good work, indeed.