Told last fall he had liver cancer, the retired editor of our family newspaper spent his final days working on his own obit, on his funeral arrangements and on a jazz concert for his memorial service.
As Larry Edwards, our managing editor, recalls, Jack asked Larry Doherty, a longtime Advertising Age editorial executive, to put together his Ad Age obit. Larry was reluctant but said he'd be honored "when the time came." Jack said no, he didn't understand-that Jack wanted to see it beforehand, to work on it with him.
That was typical Jack. As Larry Doherty said at the memorial, he wanted to be-and was-the editor of his own obit. Jack considered himself an "orchestrator"-his job was to bring all the elements together for each week's issue. And he did it, as managing editor from 1954 to 1969 and as editor from 1969 to 1975, with style and flair.
After talking with Jack about his obit, Larry Doherty called Larry Edwards and said Jack wanted see all the photos of him we had available. Larry Edwards selected what he thought was the best (it was from a news photo, not a posed shot) and we had 5x7s made. But later, when Larry talked with Jack he said he'd like to see more. Larry did that and visited with Jack the week before Christmas and they made the final selection.
About the same time, I talked with Jack by phone, and he wanted me to make absolutely sure we didn't have some photos of him stashed away somewhere he hadn't seen.
I also reminded Jack about the time when I was a reporter on Ad Age in Chicago, and I got word that one of my sources was at a sales meeting at a hotel near O'Hare International Airport. I asked Jack if I could go out there and nose around, and he enthusiastically gave me the nod. I drove to the hotel and listened at the door of the meeting to try to find out what was going on. When the meeting broke I grabbed a marketing book on a new paper towel product with borders on the sides.
Just as I headed for the door, my source cried, "Rance, what are you doing?" and I was immediately surrounded. To keep from going to jail, I had to agree not to write anything about the product until it got into test market.
But I told Jack that one of my biggest regrets was that I didn't allow them to throw me in jail. Because my one phone call would have been to him to dictate the story on the new paper towel.
Jack drew great delight in knowing the great and the near great. As retired Editor Fred Danzig told me, "If we were dealing with a major story, involving either a major agency or a smaller one, why it seemed he knew 'em all. And deep down, he admired them not for their wealth and fame, but for their wit, their humanity and their wisdom. Leo Burnett? Fairfax Cone? As he recalled some wonderful anecdote about them, he'd be making the point that advertising as it was constituted, came down to being a `people business."'
And, as Fred says, the man was cool under fire. "Stories were always breaking at the wrong time for us, but Jack managed pressure with genial humor and calming insights. He could charm us into thinking that a 10-minute deadline was realistic, surely more than we'd really need."
Fred concludes: "During those busy, active and productive years, we knew him to be a brilliant, caring, wise, witty and just wonderful as a colleague, and mentor. And now, as we weigh the values of his life, we still learn from him, for at the end, this hearty and caring man showed us yet another of his great qualities: courage."
Shortly before he died, Jack said to Larry Edwards: "I'm ready to wrap up this assignment." And then he put a "30" on his life, passing away at the crack of dawn last Saturday, Jan. 24.
Like I said, Jack was an editor to the end. He died after we had gone to press, but with plenty of time and space to handle his obit the following week.
He knew, of course, that if he had died the day before, on what he always called "Bombs Away Day," we could have only squeezed in a truncated version of the obit he had crafted with his usual zest for accuracy and completeness.
As it was, we ran it the way he wrote it.