Exactly one year ago in this space Evan Smith bid farewell to Mike Levy, founder of TEXAS MONTHLY and its publisher for 35 years. This month I find myself writing you about another profound departure: Last month was the final issue in which Evan’s name appeared at the top of the masthead. Earlier this summer Evan announced that he would be leaving the magazine. Since his final day fell in the midst of this issue, and since last month’s Mike-Leach-wearing-an-eye-patch cover seemed a less fitting send-off than this month’s man-on-a-journey one, we opted to mark the occasion here.
It’s a sad one. Evan came to work for TEXAS MONTHLY in 1992 and was named editor in 2000. During his time at the helm, his influence on the magazine has been monumental. The long list of editorial awards accrued during his tenure would take up all the space I have on this page and only begin to tell the story (when we moved into a new building in August, an entire office was piled with plaques and trophies stamped with Evan’s name). All of us who read and cherish TEXAS MONTHLY have been the beneficiaries of his vision, his humor, his love for this state, and his fierce commitment, month in and month out, to finding, creating, and publishing journalism that matters.
Working with Evan, you began to understand how myths and folktales are made, how a person can acquire a reputation, only half-disbelieved, for supernatural abilities. For instance, around the office it was commonly accepted that he could read a seven-thousand-word story in just under two minutes. Or that he actually did not need food but could function properly on nothing but Diet Coke and the occasional gum ball. Or that advance copies of the nation’s newspapers were delivered to him half an hour before the rest of us. Or that planes on which he traveled flew faster than regular planes. When he was first hired, there were many corners of Texas he had not yet visited, a shortcoming he quickly moved to repair. “Within three days he had been everywhere in Texas and met everyone he needed to meet,” then-editor Greg Curtis (a legend in his own right) told me. “Well, three days can’t be right. It may have been four or five.”
Nonetheless, for most of you, Evan’s departure will be relatively inconsequential. A year ago he stepped into Mike’s role, and I became the editor. At the time, most people found it impossible to believe that he would actually take his hands off the editorial wheel, but that’s by and large what he did (with the help of an occasional elbow to his ribs). On the business side of things, Evan’s successor is Elynn J. Russell, a 32-year veteran of the magazine who is every bit as fierce a defender of editorial integrity and as fearless and sharp a leader as Mike and Evan were. My favorite detail about Elynn, among many, is that she has been known to quiz incoming groups of TEXAS MONTHLY interns on their knowledge and appreciation of the music of Led Zeppelin.
I’ll miss Evan dearly. He’s a great friend and a good man. Like everyone else here, I can’t wait to see what he does at the Texas Tribune, a nonprofit public media organization that he recently helped found. And before too long, I expect I’ll find myself adding to his legend with more tall tales. He could e-mail while jogging, line-edit two stories at the same time …
Senior editor Pamela Colloff’s oral history of the Bonfire collapse, ten years after; executive editor Mimi Swartz’s untangling of the epic legal battle between Exxon Mobil and a legendary Texas ranch; the posthumous (and hilarious) letters of Bud Shrake; a pecan-inspired holiday feast; and senior executive editor Paul Burka’s dispatch from the reddest county in America.