I know this to be true: If Jud (“with one D,” he reminds everyone) Hale, Yankee’s editor-in-chief, had gotten wind that we were putting him here as New England’s final gift to America, he’d stand in the doorway and shake his head “no.” He is New England to the core, and to Jud, a public tribute would be as uncomfortable as a hug, and as his family knows, hugs make him scratchy. And because he’s the one who brought me here 36 years ago, and because he nurtured not only my writing but the work of so many others—too many to name in this cramped space—I rarely go against what he feels is best for the magazine. So I hid this page from him, and nobody spoke a word of it, even the photographer, who made up a story about why we wanted a new photo.
Neither a magazine nor its editor is essential to the well-being of a populace in the way that doctors, nurses, teachers, farmers, and tradesmen might be. A magazine neither feeds nor clothes nor warms us. I suppose every person reading these words could get along in the world just fine without Yankee. But Jud filled his magazine with who he was and what he cared about, and in doing so, made this region come alive for readers across the country, many of whom had never even been here, but through Yankee felt that they belonged. Jud made sure that his magazine told stories that mattered, whether humorous or dramatic, even sometimes shocking and tragic. Through those stories he made a region feel human, real, something to yearn for. Connected to a past that belonged to everyone. When readers plucked Yankee from their mailboxes, they felt that a friend was stepping inside with them. Someone to keep them company, chat a bit, share some coffee cake, swap a story or two. Life simply became brighter, because Jud’s magazine had arrived.
As he has for 57 years, he comes through the door each day carrying a wicker basket of untold age; in it he has placed manu-scripts, newspapers, his mail, and, lately, a filled coffee mug, resting precariously inside amid the paper, so that his hand is free to hold lightly to the railing along stairs that have become trickier for more than a few of us these days. Time rolls by. As anywhere, staffers here come and eventually go. But the one who mattered most came and stayed. Still the editor. Still the chief.