Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Sue Team

I first met Susan Maher when her paint brushes were wet behind her ears. She was hired by Better Homes and Gardens fresh out of design school to work on the covers of the magazine. I thought she was "younger than Springtime." We worked happily together. She left the magazine to strike out for a design career in New York, which she found at Clinque. It suited her clean and discrete style. Not long after, I was in New York with Victoria about to emerge. At the beginning, Sue worked with us freelance, and then came on full-time. She was on my staff almost to the very end of my tenure.

(By the way - I used to joke that when our delivery man Nick retired, I would leave, right behind him. I retired from Victoria, but I think Nick is still in business working for former Victoria staff members!)

But "The Sue Team" began with the magazine and stayed by my side. The other member was Susan George, who produced some of our most memorable stories. They were the extravaganzas that never ceased to amaze me or enchant our readers. Our family Christmas trees were always her assignment, and I could count on a best-selling cover from her work.

One of my favorite stories was in the early days of the magazine--a fashion layout inspired by the aviatrix Amelia Earhart. We hired planes from an aerodrome that ended up flying right over our heads, the photographer asking for ever closer flybys. WOW! I said my prayers a bit longer that night.

I am writing this and sharing the photograph taken on another shoot (by Toshi Otsuki) because of something that Sue Maher recently wrote to me:

There is a great Victoria story to be told in that not only did we all have the great fortune to work together for twelve plus years, we also were genuinely good friends as well. I'm not sure that's always the case with a group of creative and talented people. It was really quite collaborative, which is what I miss most.

In the photograph here, The Sue Team is producing a fishing story for Victoria (Sue Maher on the left, Susan George on the right). Toshi Otsuki, the photographer, couldn't resist the "behind the scenes" shot that shows good nature as well as the obvious hard work involved. Knowing the women as I do, there is definitely more than a hint of that.

Work friendships are a great story. The good ones survive for years after people have gone on their way to other pursuits.

Sue Maher works her design magic in an architectural firm these days, and Susan George is still behind the camera producing advertising campaigns. But their relationship goes beyond, "Those were the days..." And there are incredible laughs when things that seemed horrendous problems at the time fade into being tall tales with humorous overtones.

There is a kind of friendship that only friends who have "been in the fire together" know. Would you like to tell us about your work friends?

On a sad note, Kim Waller, a senior writer and editor at Victoria died early this summer. Kim wrote many stories our readers loved--as well as Victoria books. Before coming to Victoria, Kim had a distinguished career at Town & Country. There was never an ordinary assignment for Kim. Give her something like a round-up of books and she'd make it into a journey. You didn't skim Kim Waller's writing. Her friends at Victoria, for all its years, will miss her.


  1. Well said, Nancy. I would stop anything I was doing to work with you all again.
    What a team!
    I think our reunion 2 years ago said it all...everyone was there, picking up where we left off. I miss the women. I miss the creative interaction.
    Janet Harrington

  2. Thank you for confirming what I always imagined to be true: That the Victoria team operated a bit like a functional family unit. I always thought that a team of creative people who could write such imagine such lovely layouts, write such sensitive copy and take such incredibly artful photographs would share more than a vision. I am sorry to learn the family has lost a member.

  3. Yes, I believe anything as beautiful as Victoria was had to be a labor of love for most, if not all, involved. There was an ease, a flow to her beauty and a synergy to her content that could have only been accomplished by a unified vision. I think if there had been tension, it would have come through on her pages. Instead, what you and your team consistently gave us was a gentle loveliness and peaceful grace. It was always a pleasure to lose myself in her pages because they consistenly displayed those qualities.


  4. Teamwork: An important aspect of the V. team was eternal vigilance. The staff had standards that they strictly enforced--even with, or maybe, especially with me. There were open doors, and I was the last word, but no one seemed to feel they could not raise an objection, sometimes serious, to something we were doing. I think in any organization producing a quality product this is an essential element. Because of this, the product did maintain it's core values.

    Respect for each other was another major factor in our process. Once a boss told me that my "people" worked for me because they loved me--not because I managed them well. I was surprised at this evaluation. First, I'm not sure what he meant about "love." As I look back, I would substitute "respect." I think they always knew that I believed in what we were doing and held myself and them to very high standards. Secondly, I don't believe you can manage people. I do think that leadership is important to someone with final decision making.

    We did have a vision and we held to it. The wondrous thing is that so many of our readers shared it and they, too, kept the faith. Always remember that Victoria was a team effort. We were smaller than most any monthly magazine I can think of. It helped us keep in daily touch--and it helped us to share a vision and stick to our guns in its execution.

    I often approved stories that I held my breath about. But I was almost never disappointed with what crossed my desk, or in those days, my light box. The creativity and imagination of my staff left me breathless many, many times. And the growth that I saw in some of them--as the reins were held loose. Thankful, too, to the folks above me who seemed to hold the same philosophy.

    Want to share your favorite Victoria story? Want to share a Victoria-kind-of- story you would have liked to see?


  5. Dear Nancy,

    I enjoyed meeting you with Karen at King's Carriage House for one of the lovliest and most memorable lunches ever. I told you how dear Victoria was to me. Recently, I've begun working my way through Barbara Pym's books which I am enjoying very much. I think that a vignette on Pym would have worked very well for Victoria's annual British issue. I see ladies having tea in pearls, twinsets, and tweed skirts, balancing floral teacups on their laps. I see a picture of Barbara Pym included along with some accoutrements of her world; good books, traditional English foods, and flowers. The models resemble the same ones Victoria used in the Nancy Drew and Land Army Girl segments I loved so much. Barbara Pym was an unsung heroine of literature and finally received the recognition her writing deserved. I would think Victoria would have loved her story.


  6. Love the stories from behind the scenes, especially the friendships. What happened to Toshi, his photography was amazing?

  7. Firstly, I'm so sorry to hear about Kim Waller...I loved her work and admired it as a fellow writer and editor. Her writing never disappointed and she could make the most mundane subject sing with interest. She will be missed by many.

    Secondly, as you know, Nancy, I'm the facilitator of a salon dedicated to Victoria's early iteration (Return to Loveliness at Yahoo groups) and we routinely come up with what we call "VR layouts" (Victoria Regina...of course!). It somewhat eases the pain of not having a new Victoria to page through...

    The latest: the theme of San Francisco, complete with "Favorite Things" from shops in the town. We'd focus on Chinatown, and include interviews with Amy Tan and a little bit about Pearl S. Buck and her contributions? Then, we could use some of the famed recipes of Wan Can Cook and A Spoonful of Ginger by my acquaintance, Nina Simonds. Oh, and a bit about the beauty of China silk, the ships that brought it to America....and tea and porcelain!!! And fireworks! And noodles! And insense. A trip to Cathay....side articles on the Presidio, the trolley cars, the farmer's market on the pier, the San Fran earthquake (for the historical piece) and perhaps something on the hotels and the world of tourists in "those days"...the fashion layout we thought would be set in the city==the colors..all foggy and cool, like the early falls in that area. Perhaps those would be better presented in three nearby outdoors settings: Armstrong Woods: deep, mysterious, enchanted forest with majestic redwoods, Russian River: a sunset shot of where the river meets the Pacific, and McClure Beach: the winding path bordered by wild flowers that leads down to this cold beach (those last two ideas contributed by "Victoriannes" named Ruth and Mimi!) We all enjoy creating these fantasy layouts, which are, of course, photographed by Toshi or our own Christi. Hey, why not? It's our fantasy!

    Karen Marline, reaching for the moon

  8. Hi Ms. Lindemeyer,

    My name is Stacey Norwood (Norwizzle) I was so incredibly inspired by what you wrote about what made Victoria such a success. I was an associate editor for the current Victoria before leaving Hoffman Media last November. It was an honor to write and produce for a magazine that has inspired so many.

    Victoria was an enormously original work that combined a literary and artistic aesthetic with a sense of history—all with the dynamic pacing and staging of a magazine. Genius.

    I am now on an adventure of my own. I have started a media company that focuses on the hospitality industry (authentic graciousness is my passion!), and my website, also includes an online magazine, Luck Be a Lady. It's an exciting medium that I am finding has enormous promise and potential, and one that I believe is (or can be) an amazing companion to print. I would be more than honored if you were to take a look and send me your thoughts via the contact email on the site.

    I think your accomplishments speak for themselves, and I believe you are a true visionary. Many thanks for what you have given us, and what you have taught me by example. Also, I can't tell you how saddened I was to hear of Kim Waller's passing. She is a voice that will be missed.

    Stacey Norwood

  9. By the way, Nancy, that Amelia story has always been one of my favorites and continues to inspire me. The colors, the images, the romance--they were and are genius! So glad to hear that you loved it, too.
    Warmly, Karen Marline

  10. NL,
    You were the inspiration to us all!!! Yes, those reins were let loose and you gave us what no other Editor in Chief will ever accomplish!! Thanks for all those many years it was an honor and privilege to work for you!!
    Love ya


  11. Hi,all!-- Which issue is the Amelia-story-layout in? I have a few of the first two years of magazine issues and some from the years through 1998. I would love to see it. Sadly,I gave away all of my victoria magazines in a move. Now I am trying to re-collect all of them.

    Was there ever a layout- or story in a victoria about Jessica Mcclintock? I don't recall seeing one, she has a gorgeous line of clothing, Perfumes, and Furniture ,& a newer book out too, with much of the Interior of her San Fransisco Victorian mansion-home in it.{called "Simply Romantic Decorating"}.I remember her line of clothing was one of my favorites to wear in the earlier days, from the Gunny Sac line,in the 80's to my wedding gown in 1997.Her story & products to me are Victoria Worthy.

    I have all of the books that Kim Waller wrote for Victoria.Including the latest one that she wrote, called "The Essential Tea companion".,but My absolute favorite one is called "Bedrooms and Places to Dream".I have a passion for Interior Design, esp bedrooms. This one is just beautiful! All of the Victoria books are very special to me. I am so sorry to hear of her passing. Love,Valery

  12. Greetings Nancy,

    How we love and linger at tea over the old "Victoria" magazines! The photographs are beautiful! What a talented team working together!

    My daughter and I have always loved old fashioned things and we have been so inspired by Beatrix Potter and our friend Tasha Tudor in many ways. As Tasha's dolls were real to her, our dolls are very real to us. Our dolls live very real, old fashioned lives, filled with the Victorian delights that we find so inspiring in our own lives.

    Here is a link to our newspaper/blog "The Corgyncombe Courant":

    Here are some links to our web site, "Our Favorite Things", with little Daisy baking and her Mummy at Christmastide:

    Take care,
    Diane and daughter Sarah

  13. Nancy,
    I am so sorry to heat about Kim. Though I never worked with her directly, I was a big fan and I know she will be greatly missed.
    What a wonderful remembrance of the Susans! I did have the great fortune to work with them both over my Victoria years and to be inspired by their genius, generosity and humor. Such wonderful friendships came out of those years. Of course, I was in awe and more than a bit intimidated by you as you now know. Indeed we became closer after Victoria! I think Janet and Susan summed it up well - it was an honor and a privilege to work for you and experience the amazing alchemy you created. Always with love,

  14. Dear Ms. Lindemeyer,

    For so many years I wanted to have the chance to tell you somehow how important Victoria Magazine was to me. It was so much more than a "shelter" publication. "Because nice matters" came through so vividly, so distinctly, no one could turn away from the gentle kindness that leapt off each page. Like other readers, I learned a lot and was inspired, but I want to express that it was much more than that. Your work reflected an ability to synthesize the arts with the art of living in a seamless way. Just last month, my mother surprised me with some copies of issues from the late 80's that I am going through with joy and awe. You held back nothing! You filled each page with something worth "chewing" on some level. You offered something intelligent without pretense, without cynicism. It is literally impossible to find something in the public domain that accomplishes that task. Your magazine had a humility about it, and humility always attracts and welcomes. Hubris attracts and then offends. You never, ever stepped into that territory which made everyone who read it feel like a friend.

    Allowing people to share stories of family and friends from their lives and from the past was what gave the ultimate foundation of your publication, I believe. The stories offered glimpses into the hearts and homes of people who had taken chances and who had cultivated their hearts and artistic abilities to create a world where growth and life were evident, not just some comfortable aesthetic. This is sadly completely lacking in people's conversations, let alone in magazines, journals, etc.

    While we all have our personal aspirations and intentions and struggles, your magazine elevated everyone as we could see the effort that went into each and every page. At the heart of everything you ever showcased is the fundamental truth that quality of life requires effort. These things, humility, dedication, kindness, diligence, they are all virtues.

    The Victorian era, I sadly believe, is finally completely gone, and with it a commonly understood social construct of the notion of virtue. Nowadays even the word "virtue" sounds pompous, self-righteous, outdated and even silly. To me, choosing to your magazine "Victoria" was a synonym for the word "Virtue."

    As a young woman starting a married life when Victoria was in its prime, your magazines were like a primer. I had my teachers in life, as well, but your magazine even taught me to reflect on who those teachers were and to appreciate them and to emulate them. That was the genius behind your work. It prompted thoughts within each of us that transcended what we saw. That is a special kind of inspiration.

    I hope that your creativity has found a home as fulfilling as Victoria Magazine seemed to be.

    Thank you, most sincerely, for all the hard work (that you and all the people whose names I recall and don't recall) put into a publication that truly enriched the lives of countless people. It is an accomplishment to be proud of, but considering the virtuous nature of your efforts, I would say more than anything, I am sure it is an endeavor you are probably grateful for.

    Thank you for the opportunity to express these sentiments which have been on my mind for nearly 20 years.

    Best wishes, and I will keep reading your blog,
    Katerina Ilic

  15. I wished I worked with you Nancy. I simply miss the magazine and now I love reading your blog, which to me is just as good. I look forward to meeting more of the awesome staff, who you worked with.

    I was shocked by the news of Kim Waller's passing, I just received her latest book: The Essential Tea Companion. She will be missed.

    Best Regards Lisa Marshall