Will’s World: Hard to Say Goodbye

I’m not sure if you know me,” he said to me in the corridor of the hotel. “I’m Jay  Prince.” I was on the Executive Committee at the time, and Jay was introducing himself to me the night before he would give a presentation to the Executive Committee about why he was interested in becoming the Editor in Chief of Squash Magazine.

We talked for a few minutes, and I was struck immediately by his sincerity, his capability, and his passion for both the game and his potential new role. I cut the conversation off fairly quickly because I was worried about fairness to the other applicants.

It was my first meeting with someone who would become not only my editor but also my friend.

Jay had previously published a junior tennis magazine that gave a hint about his abilities to pull off not only being a magazine editor, but also its publisher. To be honest, none of us on the Executive Committee at the time had any idea about what went into putting together a magazine. We knew how to write articles (sort of), we knew how it should look (we needed a lot of education about this), we knew what we liked to read (once we read it), but we didn’t know the first thing about layout, about color correction, about printing, about bulk mailing.

We were lucky that Jay knew all this. And he taught us.

Jay said, “You don’t want to make people read an article to decide whether they wanted to read an article.”

The combination of headline, photos, subheadline, quote call-outs and photo captions are clues that readers use to decide whether this article is one they want to read.

There is an art to doing it well.

Jay showed us that where a subject is looking can make a photo work or not work for a particular layout. If you are doing a two-page spread, for example, the person in the left-page photo should be looking to the right—into the article or headline—not out into space on the left. “You need to direct the reader’s eyes,” he patiently explained. We had conversations about how Sports Illustrated could get a magazine delivered about the Super Bowl just days after the big game was played and why we were different from Time/Life (SI’s publisher), he explained how going back and forth with writers about their articles took time and care (all of us, it turns out, have egos about our writing), he explained how printers used four different inks in order to create color and how the mix of those colors was an art in itself.

In Jay’s eighteen years running the magazine, he had to repeat these lessons again and again to new executive directors, to new CEOs, to new presidents, to new boards. Virtually none of us had any experience in publishing, but we all had strong opinions. There are always lots of opinions, but not always a ton of expertise.

Jay did all this patiently despite the fact that year after year, he often was subsidizing the magazine with his own money. Advertising turned out to be a full time job, and despite squash’s affluent audience, the money-laden advertisers just couldn’t be bothered with such a relatively small circulation. That meant that Jay was constantly straddling the line of wanting—needing—to get significantly more money from advertisers, but also wanting to promote local tournaments and squash-related avertisers. In the end, instead of making money, he was one of squash’s largest unsung donors.

That’s one thing you might not know. Here are a few others:

Jay is a good squash player. In the midpoint of his tenure, he got quite good. Jay and I are about the same age, so in the Masters, we often were in the same division; for a couple of years there, we played in the Nationals. I am not sure he would admit this, but I am fairly certain that knocking me off in a tournament was a real goal of his (it’s good to have goals, Jay). Therefore, I am taking this opportunity to grab some credit for the sharp improvement in his game before a bad back and weight slowed him down.

Jay is a proud father. His son is a terrific baseball player; his daughter fantastic at competitive cheer. Jay hated to travel away from Seattle for long periods because watching his son and daughter compete and spending time as a dad was the real life stuff that he craves.

Jay has a crazy streak. Jay has gone skydiving, Jay used to ski, and Jay dresses up in blue and green and roots, roots, roots for his beloved Seattle Seahawks. For the last two years, Jay’s efforts to get tickets to the two Super Bowls where the ‘hawks played were stories I heard again and again.

Jay is a good listener. As our relationship grew from professional to personal, my own life went through its own complications. Jay and I had a number of late-night conversations that were alternately serious and funny. Our conversations ranged from profound to mundane; we talked about life, death, family, relationships, dieting, training, movies, television, books, and, of course, magazines. Often the excuse for the call was something about the magazine, but it often really was about connecting.

So it is with some confidence that I can tell you this: Jay cares. He cares about the game; he cares about its future; he cares about leagues, tournaments, and club matches; he cares about juniors; he cares about parents; he cares about referees; he cares about organizers; he cares about vendors; he cares about sponsors.

He cares about the people in the game.

He cares about you. He cares about me.

That’s why it’s hard to say goodbye.

So, I won’t. I can’t.

It’s too personal. It’s too hard.

Instead, I will say something publicly that we all also should do privately. It’s simple and it’s not enough, but it will have to do for now:

Thank you, Jay. Thank you.