Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mary Morris, I miss you...

Once in a while this computer of mine gets a mind of its own. At least, that's how I explain a stray comma or a missing word. At Victoria, there was an incredible person who presided over our copy like a general in the field. Mary Morris was our "word" person and one of the best line editors in the business. I think her proudest day may have been when a group of English teachers wrote to compliment us on our use of the language.

As an editor-in-chief, one is the face of the magazine. But everyone knows that many talents have to toil to put out a good product month after month. Mary was an unseen hand, and what I liked about her most was she never made compromises. And she often kept me on track. Her rewrites were impeccable. No copy was considered unimportant. A caption in Favorite Things always included extra information that the reader wouldn't have missed if it weren't there. And Mary had writers she relied on who were great researchers. One writer once told me that Mary made her a better writer by simply reminding her that she didn't have to tell the reader what one could plainly see; she was to dig deeper than that. Caption writing is an art and Mary is a master. The next time you read a magazine caption, see if it passes the Mary Morris rule.

I don't get to see Mary as often as I'd like. We manage a lunch with a former colleague now and then--and there is the momentous birthday party that brings us all together. I miss our everyday encounters with words, and I sure miss her taking a sharp point to my writing. (I've been hitting the keys pretty hard these days with one book in proof stage and a new one piling up pages of raw copy.) But I guess this is one of those situations where one has to be thankful for what we had for as long as we had it. I learned a lot from Mary Morris, and so did the millions of readers of Victoria. Tip your hat: She deserves it.


  1. I loved the caption writing in Victoria. If I had something I needed to buy, I would wait for my new Victoria first because whatever was in Favorite Things, I wanted and it wasn't just because of the fine photographs. It was because of the way the copy was written. Even something as simple as a shampoo. The text captured my imagination. Nancy, I use to love the drawing of your assistant Helen Killeen in her pince nez glasses staring down at me and telling me she would help me with my subscription if I needed it. Would love to hear about her too.

    Thank you!


  2. Thank you Nancy. Your wonderful tribute to Mary, an unseen talent, made me run right back to my Victorias again. I looked at several favorite issues with a fresh eye and new appreciation.

    I worked as a secretary and later as an administrative assistant (just a fancy name for secretary) for many years before my retirement. I was fortunate enough to work with some exceptional leaders at our community college. My last supervisor, a young man, hated the word boss and insisted that we worked together as a team. Since he was only 30 and I was twice his age, I truly appreciated our working relationship. It gives each of us a sense of pride to take any project and put our own touch to it. It surely sounds like Mary felt this too. Sharing Mary's vital position as part of the Victoria team with us shows such perfect teamwork. The more you share about your staff, the more I realize why we all love Victoria so much.

    I am so anticipating all of your literary projects. With appreciation, Jean

  3. Thank you, Nancy, for this behind-the-scenes peak at Victoria. This is fascinating reading. The editing at Victoria was impeccable and was just another piece of what made the magazine great. There's a reason I'm still carrying around these twenty-year-old magazines and reading them in favor of whatever is now on the newsstand.

  4. I'm so enjoying these behind-the-page peaks at Victoria. I always loved the magazine captions, so it's lovely to read about the expert in the business!

  5. As someone who writes captions and proofs copy for a living, I'm so thrilled to be reading this lovely tribute to that particular genius of yours, Nancy. I have limited my routine purchases (like bathroom items, household goods and such) to those I found championed in Victoria for years (Crabtree & E, Godiva, etc) and those impeccable captions were often selling points that tipped the deal towards them. I often tell my team members that we don't have to simply describe what the reader SEES, we have to provide something more alluring---exactly what your Ms. Morris did. This is a marvelous tribute; thanks so very much for sharing it. I wish I could meet this woman and shake her hand for elevating what some would consider not-very-glamourous work to the fine art it is.
    Warmly and appreciatively,
    Karen Marline

  6. Nancy,

    So glad to have found your blog and missed you when you left Victoria. Everyone needs a Mary Morris..we just don't always realize it. Thank you for you wonderful tribute to her.

    Kindredly, Lynne Laura

  7. Thank you so much for sharing Mary with us. I still love reading the magazine and I have learned so much from Mary over the years. Please give us a sneak peek of what it was like working with Toshi, I still love the photos of Victoria.