My dad died a few days ago, peacefully, at the age of 96. As we prepared for the memorial service, I talked to a number of people who had worked with him over the years in his capacities as director and editor of the Southern Methodist University Press, publisher of the Southwest Review, and book editor of the Dallas Morning News.
I knew about his own personal trial during the McCarthy era: an SMU prof had published an anti-Communist screed with tones of anti-Semitism, my father responded with a critique in one of his publications, and the professor tried to get him fired and succeeded in getting him and colleague Margaret Hartley up before an tribunal by University officials on charges of disloyalty. They were cleared.
But I was reminded of countless other incidences of editorial backbone as when a Methodist bishop complained about the galley proof of a short story containing a good amount of street language. “Bishop,” my father responded, “you don’t talk that way and I don’t talk that way, but the character in this story talks this way so I’m going to publish it.” And he did. He never brought these incidents home and in most cases he never even mentioned them.
He was my own editor a few times for high school papers, critiquing punctuation or grammatical decisions which I felt to be negotiable. I never remember him actually suggesting I change the meaning of any passage but I know he did—so subtly that I did not realize he was doing it or so persuasively that I thought the change was my idea. In that sense he was the ultimate great client: standing up for the integrity of the editorial matter because his responsibility was to make it as good as it could be while retaining the author’s voice.
Thank you Daddy. Rest in peace, Allen Maxwell.