Marilyn Sadler and Frank Murtaugh
Be sure and hang on to your August issue of Memphis magazine. Put it somewhere safe. This year’s City Guide, you see, marks the end of an era (at least by some measures). After 25 years on our masthead — the last 13 as senior editor — Marilyn Sadler has retired, going out in a blaze of glory with production of the 212-page magazine that hits mailboxes and newsstands this week. As Marilyn’s colleague for 23 of those years, I’m now tasked with the reality — impossible to conceptualize as recently as February — of producing a magazine without her.
In many respects, Marilyn and Michael Finger (our other longtime senior editor) served as my grad-school professors. Hired in 1992 when I was 23, I could write a decent college term paper at the time, but not much more. Whatever strengths I’ve developed as a writer I owe, foremost, to Michael and Marilyn. From Michael, I learned that a good story requires depth and color. “Just the facts” applied only to daily reporters, and really to daily reporters of a bygone era. Help a reader see the story you’re trying to share.
From Marilyn, I learned that the heart matters in telling a story. What makes a subject laugh or cry? What will make a reader laugh or cry? This kind of engagement — writer to reader – is extraordinarily rare. When achieved, it’s unlike any human relationship outside familial bond. Marilyn may have missed her calling as a biographer, as her profiles of prominent Memphians are among the finest and most durable tales this magazine has told. Going back a few years, she wrote about Commercial Appeal editor Angus McEachran (February 1994) and cotton titan Julien Hohenberg (June 1994). More recently, Kallen Esperian (October 2013) and Micah Greenstein (December 2013) came to life through Marilyn’s heartfelt reporting.
And Marilyn is a professional journalist. By that I mean no work detail was too light for her attention. She was the backbone of our popular package of short features, “City Beat” (later “City Seen”), for two decades. And if you’re among the thousands of readers who go back (and back) to “City Dining” for your next dinner date or lunch gathering, you have Marilyn to thank. Her attention to detail when it came to openings and closings — to say nothing of a restaurant’s hours, specials, and beverage selection — made our dining listings the best you’ll find (now also online) anywhere in the country.
If you’re a longtime reader, you likely know some of these Sadler factoids. Here are a few you may not know. Marilyn is devoted to her family, and not just those still with us. She’s written about her mother and father in our pages, and remains inspired by the one-of-a-kind marriage she shared with her late husband John. One of Marilyn’s sisters lives in Cleveland, Tennessee, where I spent some of my favorite childhood days visiting my maternal grandmother. She is a devoted St. Louis Cardinals fan. (This was our friendship’s version of “You had me at hello.”) And Marilyn loves the furry friends among us, devoting countless hours of her life to making the lives of cats and dogs more comfortable, happier. You want to measure the size of a human heart? Watch how they handle a cat (or dog) in need. Pluto has nothing on Marilyn when it comes to such a measurement.
A job is much like the money you earn while doing it: Ultimately, you can’t take it with you. If you’re lucky, though, you make an impact that lasts beyond your time on the clock. Perhaps you make a friend or two whose value goes beyond meeting the next deadline or budget report. Marilyn has made such an impact here at Memphis magazine. When I wonder about my own extended stay with Contemporary Media, gratitude prevails, in large part for friendships I’ve built with the likes of Marilyn Sadler.
You have a special “Last Stand” to look forward to in our September issue. And I’m convinced Marilyn’s writing will grace our pages even as she embraces retirement life. So for now, let’s say farewell and wish her all the best. But let’s also look forward to the next time she captures our attention. And our hearts.