Texas Monthly Publisher Says Adios

texas-monthly-cover(1).jpgIn an email obtained by FishbowlNY, Mike Levy, the longtime publisher of Texas Monthly, announced he’s leaving the magazine at the end of August. He’s been with the publication since its inception in 1973 and cited the mag’s 35th anniversary as one reason for his decision to leave.

Congrats, Mike. Now please don’t shoot us in the face for reprinting your missive.

(If you get this message more than once I apologize since your address may be on more than one of my infamous e-mail lists. I’m also releasing all the carrier pigeons which I have purchased – just in case.)

My last day as publisher of TEXAS MONTHLY will be August 31. (I know it’s a Sunday, but for everybody associated with TEXAS MONTHLY over the years it’s always practically been 24/7/365.)

To paraphrase my friend George Pratt—who rose through the ranks at Southwest Airlines from working on the ramp and sweating in 737 baggage holds to ultimately becoming a key executive responsible for operating various regions of the country — to walk away from a labor of love is not an easy task.

At last week’s TEXAS MONTHLY Talks taping with Evan Smith, Lyle Lovett said, “Anybody who gets to do on a daily basis what he likes to do is very lucky.”

It started in 1973 with an idea, the premise still true today: Texas is a huge expanse of geography, but in essence it’s really a defined community of interest. We’re all Texans, sharing a common tradition and lifestyle and culture and, most important, pride in our state. We’re all Texans! The “city” really is Texas, and the “neighborhoods” are all the cities and towns and ranches and farms scattered throughout the state. At the beginning our small staff was like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney yelling, “Hey, kids! Let’s start a magazine.” We taught ourselves the magazine business, committed to staff writers instead of free lance, an independent fact checking staff — errors have happened, but very rarely — strong editing, and great photojournalism, yielding a magazine of national quality worthy of our readers’ time and interest and trust and our advertisers’ dollars. People who remember “the good ol’ days” have bad memories. It was scary. Our offices were in a walk-up with the Xerox on my desk so I could count the copies people were making. Gas coming through the heating system giving us awful headaches. Bats flying around. Too many times we should have been forced out of business. If our printer had not forgotten to send us a bill for the first six months because we were so small, we would have been bankrupt. But waking up one day and asking ourselves, “What would our lives have been like if we had followed that dream?”, would have been much worse. We knew that if TEXAS MONTHLY became and remained a truly great magazine, financial rewards would naturally follow. And from our first issue in February 1973 to the newest one on the newsstands, I have always believed that our success has been due first, foremost and primarily to the magazine’s publisher always having surrounded himself with colleagues far smarter and more capable than he.

But it worked! Beyond anything I had dreamed possible.

So why now to say adiós?

Simply put, the 35th anniversary of TEXAS MONTHLY in February prompted me to make a very personal and difficult decision. With the encouragement and support of my mother, my three daughters, Rachel, Tobin and Mara, and my sister Jean, after 424 issues I’m ready to turn the torch over to those who are here, and those who will follow, because I trust them to make the magazine I started even better. The time and opportunity have come to allow me to begin a new chapter in my life.

My long-time assistant Pam Keller will be leaving TEXAS MONTHLY with me to be able to spend more time with her daughter McKenna and husband David Stone, to devote more time to her work as executive director of The Meyer Levy Charitable Foundation (established by my late uncle and of which my sister and I are trustees and our daughters are advisors), and to help me in the next phase of my life meeting my fiduciary responsibilities to the foundation, running my family’s business office, establishing a consulting practice focused on marketing, and exploring community endeavors of interest to me. Pam has been with TEXAS MONTHLY for 10 years. The staff may miss me a little and for a while, but they are really going to miss Pam, who has been indispensable to the magazine in so many ways.

The magazine would not be here without my father and mother’s support, their encouragement, and faith in me and my idea. Florence Levy was born in Dallas; her parents were immigrants from Hungary. Harry Levy immigrated from Poland with his brother, sister and their parents. Both families lost relatives in the Holocaust. Dad’s father was a blacksmith; Dad (who died 3 years ago at the age of 93) was a plumber. I proudly self-identify as a plumber’s son. Mother is now 93 and infirm, but her great love for her family fills us all. Mom and Dad taught us by example that if you want anything of importance, you have to work very hard. My former wife Becky kept telling me my dream would work while I was perpetually in great and unbearable fear that it would not. And my daughters, Tobin, Mara, and Rachel (now the mother of the two most wonderful and drop dead gorgeous granddaughters in the world), with their great hearts and souls and wisdom and intelligence, have taught me the true meaning of love and the need to search constantly for purpose and joy and contentment.

My close friends: I’ll just say you know who you are, and I can only hope that you also know the value and importance you have in my life.

This is proving to be much harder for me than starting TEXAS MONTHLY 35 years ago.

The most difficult part of all for me will be not being with the wonderful people here, the humanity of TEXAS MONTHLY. I guess I will never really “leave”. I just won’t be here.

We have not only made a difference in Texas, a state we all love, with our journalism and with our support for the voluntary action movement, we created a community, an extended family. I recently received letters from former senior editor Anne Dingus, who retired in 2005, and promotion director Suzi Sands, who was on staff from 1977 to 1987. Annie wrote: “…TEXAS MONTHLY has been a strong and positive force in my life. My closest friends in Austin are all people I met while working at the magazine…I still think of myself as one of the family…” Suzi wrote “….I look to the friends I made at TEXAS MONTHLY over 30 years ago and know they will be the best friends I have in my life.” Executive editor Mimi Swartz recently e-mailed me with “…the camaraderie and the seriousness of purpose, the generosity, the thoughtfulness, the intellectual rigor—I could go on and on, but I think I’ll just say thanks again. It’s an honor and a pleasure to be associated with TEXAS MONTHLY.” A friend recently told me that TEXAS MONTHLY reads as if “it is put out by a family”.

There have been so many talented, extraordinary and hard-working people on the TEXAS MONTHLY staff over the past 35 years. Many members of the current staff have been with the magazine for well over 15 and 20 and 25 and 30 years, with many staffers having started working here as unpaid interns, each one testimony to how great it is to work at TEXAS MONTHLY. I must thank them all, and their predecessors, for giving me the honor and the privilege of being their publisher, to lead the organization that has worked so very hard to meet the needs and interests of our most important constituency, our readers, as well as our advertisers who over the years have provided the fuel for the machine.

In this space I can’t list and praise each of them individually, but I would be remiss in not giving special recognition to a very few who also represent every TEXAS MONTHLY staff member over the years, all of whom I have never considered to be my employees but my friends.

First, there are the three editors who gave us over the years a magazine that survived and prospered because of each one’s vision, passion, sensibility, judgment and ability to attract and manage great journalistic teams. The legacy vision of founding editor Bill Broyles will forever be seen in our pages. Greg Curtis, Bill’s roommate at Rice and first hire as a staff writer when we started the magazine, not only was editor for 19 years following Bill but was also one of our most prolific writers even while editor. Greg raised the magazine’s journalistic bar to a legendary height. And Evan Smith’s energy and intelligence are today making a great magazine even better in meeting our two primary missions: informing and entertaining the people of Texas and in making a true difference in the state we love, and along with the rest of our entire staff over the years in adding strength to the voluntary action movement, which is the oil of our social machine.

Senior executive editor Paul Burka has been with the magazine almost since its inception. Paul has helped other writers become much better at their craft, and he has constantly filled our pages with knowledge and wisdom based on a true love for Texas. Today Paul is recognized as one of the four or five very best political journalists in the country.

I started TEXAS MONTHLY with the goal that it would provide both a home and a venue for the best of the best journalists such as Paul. These writers have always been the proverbial cornerstone of the magazine. They have been my heroes and always will

Elynn Russell joined TEXAS MONTHLY more than 30 years ago as my assistant, somehow survived that experience, and is now senior vice president/operations of the company with responsibilities from setting complex advertising rate structures to serving as our human resources director. But no title can really reflect Elynn’s true contributions and gifts on a daily basis to TEXAS MONTHLY. She is the source of the humanity in the ongoing culture and in the heart and soul of TEXAS MONTHLY, the wise one not only in the running of the business and making sure we are always a community of friends, but also providing invaluable professional and personal counsel on a daily basis to so many people (including the publisher) over the years. Elynn has been the air in our balloon. Everybody on the staff is important, but I think most past, present and future staffers will agree that Elynn most certainly has been the most important, truly irreplaceable.

The numbers speak for themselves: A total readership today of 2,000,000+ Texans (which is more readers than any other Texas publication, including the daily newspapers), and last year was our 2nd most profitable in the history of the magazine, and all because of a great brand, a great magazine that has received nine National Magazine Awards, our industry’s equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. Because of a phenomenal selling and marketing organization, TEXAS MONTHLY was #13 among all national magazines in total ad pages, providing fuel for the engine.

In 1973 I could have neither described nor dreamed of so many years of joy, pride, and satisfaction that TEXAS MONTHLY would bring to my life. The opportunity to experience new people and places, to develop life-long friendships with members of the TEXAS MONTHLY community, were not goals but have been gifts, with a professional life far richer and more fulfilling than I could ever have hoped. As it is said “choose a job you love and you will never work a day of your life”, and this has been an amazing ride.

The best of TEXAS MONTHLY is yet to come because ingenuity and talent, honesty and integrity, teamwork and community, a commitment to journalistic excellence and perfection for their own sake, and a love of Texas, has always been and will always be in the DNA of everyone who works at the magazine now and those in the years ahead, as TEXAS MONTHLY goes from a medium based on Johannes Gutenberg’s print on paper to texasmonthly.com and many other new media one could never have imagined 35 years ago that will carry TEXAS MONTHLY’s content and sensibility.

Today is just the threshold of what the future holds for an increasingly strong editorial product that has become an icon in our state: TEXAS MONTHLY.

That’s my story, our story, and I’m sticking to it.

Happy trails to you all, and thanks for a great 35 years.