When friend and journalist Linda Perney died in late December, she left behind unfillable shoes. Generous to a fault perhaps, she assigned this unproven writer his first-ever story, calling out of the blue one early December morning with a turn of phrase I will never forget. I need a favor, she said, could you go to Paris for a week and eat and shop and then just write it all down? All-expense paid, of course. Uhhh, naturally I said yes. And yet another travel writer was born. Years later she joked that I’d probably take a press-trip to Perth Amboy if there was a promising spa or restaurant involved and I had to remind her that she more than anyone was responsible for creating the beast.
She loved a good story, and more to the point she recognized a good story – even if it took some serious editing to wrangle it out of a steaming heap of self-conscious, purple prose. (Guilty as charged.) I remember feeling bereft when she left the Daily News. Not only because my freelance pipeline would most assuredly dry up but because my education under her would be interrupted. You see, other magazines and papers would print essentially what I wrote, making the occasional edit for space considerations. Linda would edit for style, substance, and clarity. It didn’t matter how thrilling or brilliant I thought my sentences were, if they weren’t in service to the story they were out. It sounds trite but it’s true: all the really important stuff about journalism I learned from Linda.
After her memorial service in Manhattan last week, the ushers handed out a program which contained reminiscences by various friends and colleagues, photos, a map of “Linda’s New York.” Inside the back cover was a recipe, which made me smile. (Linda was an amazingly confidant and carefree cook, too.) Even in death, she had more to share.