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I can’t say I wasn’t warned. In November 1991, not long after I’d announced to my bosses at a big magazine company in New York that I would soon be quitting to take a job with Texas Monthly, one of the company’s officers, a hulking man with a thick German accent, stopped me near the elevator, squinted his eyes, and said incredulously, “You vant to verk for Mike Lee-vee?”
About a month later, safely ensconced in Austin, I paid a visit to the office that would soon be my second home. My new boss, Greg Curtis, immediately walked me down the hall to see the magazine’s founder and publisher. It was a tradition that every incoming employee meet Mike Levy, who was hunched over his desk with his back to us. Greg offered a few words of introduction on my behalf, at which point, in a fluid motion, Mike bounded out of his chair, forcefully shook my hand, said, “Welcome to Texas Monthly. Don’t screw up,” quickly sat down, wheeled around, and without comment, started in again on whatever he’d been doing. I remember thinking to myself, “I vant to verk for Mike Lee-vee?”
Oh, I absolutely did—both in those early few weeks, when I came to realize that Mike was nothing like any founder or publisher I had ever known, and over the next seventeen years, when, despite the occasional emphatic disagreement, I was never less than honored to be on his staff. And I’d be quite happy to still be in his employ had he not announced this summer—surprising everyone, including, I suspect, himself—that it was time for him to retire from what is essentially the only job he’s ever had and certainly one he loved with all his heart.
This is the last issue of Texas Monthly with Mike’s name at the top of the masthead. For most of you, that change will be inconsequential. The magazine will be just as good (hopefully) in November as it was in September, with readers and advertisers served as energetically and treated as respectfully as they’ve come to expect. But for those of us who’ve toiled alongside him, it will never be the same. In his work ethic and commitment to a greater good, he was an inspiration. In his belief that the editorial product was as important as the money we made—and therefore needed to be supported and protected at all costs—he was a rarity; I’ve never known another publisher to be so content-focused. In his treatment of the kid in the mail room, the man on the street, the reader who called to praise or grouse, the advertiser who spent thousands or hundreds to peddle his wares, he was a mensch, someone whose compassion was equal to his passion, whose concern for “the humanity of the place” was on display each day.
Mike changed the personal and professional trajectories of everyone he hired and of many people he met, and he changed Texas. His foresight in creating a magazine that provided great service and told compelling stories and spoke hard truths did wonders for this vast, strangely cohesive state. And for other states as well, as legions of would-be Mike Levys followed his lead elsewhere. City and regional magazine journalism, among other things, would not be what it is today without him.
The magazine Mike created, the one infused with his DNA, will survive his departure. You can be sure of that. He’ll survive his departure too—though we’ll be keeping an eye on him.
Welcome to the next phase of your extraordinary life, Mike. Don’t screw up.
The economics of UT-Austin’s athletics program, 35 innocent men, Thanksgiving without turkey, Sissy Farenthold, and Gary Cartwright remembers the Alamo.