When I heard about Glenn Richter I was in California visiting my son, who lives in Alameda, across the bay from San Francisco. I hadn’t seen my oldest son for two years, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. We had tried to get together a couple of times, including a plan that involved meeting in Nevada, but the virus always had other ideas.
Then things started to look better. I got fully vaccinated, for one, and the Covid situation was finally heading in a direction we’d been hoping for. So I got a plane ticket. Then things started getting not good again, but not to the point where I was going to cancel my visit.
The morning after I arrived in San Francisco I got a call telling me about Glenn. I emitted a flurry of expletives I wouldn’t want to repeat here. I had visited Glenn a couple of times in the hospital over the past few weeks, so the news did not come as a surprise, but death is always a divider: the world is one way one moment, another way the next. I’ve been trying to get along in that new world since.
Glenn had hired me, as a copy editor, a long time ago. I did not stay under his supervision for long. I was assigned other duties. But we always had at least some involvement with one another’s work, and it always mattered to me what he thought about something, particularly if it involved something that involved me.
By the turn of the millennium, I was doing a lot of reporting, and some of my stories would run on the front page of Sunday’s paper. Glenn was the editor in charge of how the front page of the Sunday paper looked, and he would consistently come up with imaginative designs and headlines to support my stories, whether they were about a 9/11 anniversary or, say, Laura Castellano Cuno, the opera singer Meriden’s summer camp was named after.
When I became editorial page editor, I was told I’d be in good hands with Glenn, who was by that time editorial assistant, and this more than turned out to be the case. He had experience with our guidelines, for one, which helped me understand the reason behind them and helped me form my own thinking. We discourage writers from referring to businesses by name in letters to the editor, for example, for reasons I hope will be obvious (we’d rather readers’ opinions not be restaurant reviews) but there’s also reason to bend, when it seems silly not to mention a business by name.
We’d also talk about topics for editorials, a lot. And we’d read each other’s stuff.
Years ago, during a newsroom party, a reporter talked about how thrilled he’d been when Glenn, the editor who ran the copy desk, told him his story was “perfect.” Then the reporter found out that Glenn had a rather binary way of looking at stories, as in that they were either “perfect” or “trouble.”
I always felt better after Glenn had looked at something I had written. I think he understood that I maybe needed to hear a little more. So, he would say, perhaps, “good stuff.”
And then he would say, “four commas,” or something like that, depending on how many commas he’d added to my column. For some reason I don’t remember him ever subtracting them. In any case, this became a sort of running joke between us. How many commas would my column need this week? And then, every once in a while, wow, no commas!
Here’s a direct quote, from an April 15 email: “good stuff. one comma, one hyphen, one typo.”
I didn’t have to worry about that sort of thing with his writing. He knew his way around grammar, for one. He had a conversational style and he wasn’t afraid of being provocative. To write a good humor piece is very difficult, but Glenn could make it look easy.
It goes without saying that I’ll miss him terribly, but it’s important to say it, too. I’m sure I’ll be picking up the phone to call him — and my guess is you’ll understand what I mean by that.
I’ve lost many people dear to me by now, at this point of my life. They stay within you somehow, I’ve noticed, and sometimes you can hear them in your head. But if you read a column of mine from now on and find it could have used a comma here and there, well, you’ll know why.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.