June 14th, 2019
This blog post takes part in a blog tour hosted by the Association of University Presses (AUPresses) in recognition and respect of the sudden passing of the University of Virginia Press director Mark Saunders. As our professional organization gathered this week in Detroit for our annual meeting, search on Twitter with #WeAreUP to read more posts about our sorely missed colleague, Mark, and continue to follow @AUPresses and engage with #ReadUP.
I know who Mark Saunders was, but I did not know him.
That seems weird to say since I have been employed by Purdue University Press in various capacities for 22 years as of next month (hey, I’m not that old – the first three and a half years were as a student worker!). I never met Mark but saw him often from afar at one conference or another. Seeing the impact that Mark had on the publishing industry, specifically the university press industry, is awe-inspiring and makes me wish I had stepped out of my box to introduce myself to him; or asked a colleague to make the introduction. As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. But why should it be? The outpouring of grief, love, and admiration for Mark and the wonderful stories celebrating him as a leader, colleague, mentor, and friend from our community of AUPresses has caught me examining my own hindsight and asking the question, why do we wait to do so?
A little more than 11 years ago my colleague and at the time our managing editor, Margaret, lost her war with cancer. She won the first battle a couple years before that, but the evil disease finally won. She did not pass suddenly, like Mark, so we in the office knew this day would come but the shock was similar when we finally received the news. Stupidly, I did not take the opportunity to go and say goodbye. I grieved in my own way, I keep some things in a box like that for better or for worse. One part of grieving was that I volunteered to clean out her office and pack up her personal items in order to get them back to her family. In doing so, I came across a section of her file cabinet that was bursting with notes, cards, and letters sent to her by a plethora of authors, editors, and colleagues. These items were thanking her for the excellent job on a manuscript, sending good wishes at holidays, or sharing cute and cuddly cat pictures (like many publishers, Margaret was a huge cat person and an expert gardener). I knew that Margaret was good at her job. I respected and admired her, but in reading through these items my hindsight suddenly came into focus and became 20/20. I also realized, I should have picked Margaret’s brain more, asked her all the little questions I had about the industry. I thought they were silly, little questions that would waste her time. I missed the opportunity to receive a different perspective. More importantly, I missed the opportunity to express my admiration and respect to her through words; I missed the opportunity to wish her enough. Hindsight is 20/20.
Mark’s sudden passing and the outpouring of admiration, fun stories, and great respect for him as a colleague and friend throughout our industry brought Margaret back from my memories. What do I take away from this? What do I want others to glean from my short post here?
University presses are not run by one person nor do they succeed because of one person. From the smallest to the largest presses, it takes a team to succeed. If I tried to recall the names of all the staff members, interns, student workers, graduate assistants, and colleagues who I have worked with over the past 22 years I would surely miss several; so, I will not try. But to all of them, I say thank you and my apologies if I had not done so previously. To my current colleagues and friends at Purdue University Press: Becki, Katherine, Kelley, Chris, Matt, Susan, Sarah, Sebastian, Ashutosh, Nina, Marcy, and Justin – thank you for all that you do, for me personally and more so for our team. Our success is because of the whole team.
To all past, present, and future colleagues—at Purdue UP and the greater AUPresses family—: don’t wait for your hindsight to become 20/20. I wish you all enough.
About the author: Bryan Shaffer drove the official Purdue University mascot, the Boilermaker Special, to his interview for a student worker position at the Press in July 1997. He was hired on the spot to design advertisements and to pick-and-pack book orders. When he arrived for the first day of work and he switched on the dusty Apple IIc computer he wondered what in the world he got himself into. Almost 22 years later he is the sales and marketing manager for Purdue University Press and is said to be the “institutional memory” and “den bear” of the small family that makes up the Press. He now knows what he got himself into…..a caring family and greater community. He considers himself very blessed, fortunate, and lucky.