Signing Off

Neal Burdick '72

Early on the morning of August 28, 1977, I walked into my office in Vilas Hall, at age 27 the newly-hired editor of the St. Lawrence magazine, then called the Bulletin. Before me were a mostly empty desk with an ink blotter, a landline rotary phone and a Royal manual typewriter (a cutting-edge electric one, complete with a fancy erasure feature that negated the need for those hard rubber pencils with a brush at one end, that you’d scrub away with until you wore a hole in your paper, was two years in the future). My boss, a saint of a man and one of my best professional mentors, St. Lawrence public relations director Thurlow O. Cannon (an old-school New England journalist, he insisted on his middle initial), told me I had three weeks to pull the fall magazine together.

Late in the afternoon on May 11, 2016, I walked out of that office for the last time, officially at any rate, upon my retirement after editing almost 39 years and somewhere between 133 and 155 issues of the St. Lawrence magazine. (Why the discrepancy? It depends on what qualified as a magazine. It’s complicated….) To say that there were technological changes over the years—generations of computers, ever-ritzier telephones, email, the Internet—would be to state the obvious. To say it has been a joy and a privilege to edit my own alma mater’s alumni magazine for all those years would be the same.

Every once in a while, in the midst of putting commas in the right places in Class Notes, figuring out how to fit in all the news, and all the myriad creative challenges an editor faces every day—heck, every minute—I would sit back and realize I was responsible for accurately conveying to St. Lawrence’s 38,000-plus alumni, parents and others an accurate representation of a major private liberal arts university as it was at that moment. Although I had the wonderful help of a team of dozens (about 100 people contribute to each magazine in a banquet of ways), the task of “getting it right” fell ultimately to me. That was an awe-inspiring responsibility, but also a scary one, because in a certain sense I had 38,000-plus bosses ready to point out my errors of construction or judgment. And fear of disappointing someone is a great motivator.

Someone asked me recently what was most satisfying about my career. In no particular order: presenting magazines in which every reader would find at least one thing of interest beyond Class Notes; teaching my student interns, which made me a better writer and editor and helped assure that the skills I value will not disappear when I leave this earth; and—forgive me if this sounds corny or predictable, but I mean it—working with a great bunch of people sharing the same goal, to show St. Lawrence University to the world honestly, fairly and thoroughly.

Thank you for allowing me into your homes to tell you about your alma mater. Go, Saints!

Before becoming editor of this magazine, Neal Burdick graduated Phi Beta Kappa from St. Lawrence with a major in English, earned master’s and doctoral degrees in American studies at Case Western Reserve University, and taught and coached at a boarding school in Maine. He plans to remain in his native North Country and continue freelance writing and editing.