Media Moves

WSJ’s Bill Mathewson: An editor’s editor

August 30, 2016

Posted by Chris Roush

Bill Mathewson
Bill Mathewson

Don Moffitt and his wife Ellen Graham are distinguished former Wall Street Journal editors who knew Bill Mathewson well.

Here is what they wrote about Mathewson, who worked at the Journal from 1969 to 2007 and died this weekend:

Bill Mathewson struck others of his generation at The Wall Street Journal as an editor’s editor. The editor of Bill’s first page-one Journal feature in 1970, recalls that “I didn’t have to change a single word. Remarkable.” (That’s Alfred Malabre, who wrote that in an email.) Bill’s finely tuned ear for language emerged early. In the sixth grade at his elementary school in West Springfield, New Hampshire, he raised his hand when his teacher pronounced Beethoven as “BEET-haven.” “Miss S.,” he said, “It’s BAYT-hoven!” Correction by a 12-year-old failed to amuse Miss S., Bill remembered.

In West Springfield, Bill’s father, the late W. Glen Mathewson, owned and managed the Country Store, a classic of nineteenth century New England retailing, which had been founded in 1825. According to a paper published by the West Springfield Historical Society, “It was the center of life in West Springfield. It was the place where workmen ate lunch, talked politics, played cards, and picked up the daily mail.” Bill’s father served as postmaster. He had been born in the Bronx borough of New York City, son of Douglas Mathewson, a lawyer and early 20th century borough president. Bill’s father had worked for much of his life as a retailing executive in New York but became an early  dropout to pursue a less pressured way of life in New Hampshire.

After graduation from Yale in 1961, Bill was commissioned in the Army. He was discharged from active duty in 1963. Nine years later, in 1972, he noticed that his discharge had been signed by a fellow page one editor on the Journal, Roger Ricklefs, a first lieutenant who was serving as an adjutant at Fort Hamilton at the time of Bill’s release. Bill posted a copy of the document on page one’s bulletin board. Another page one editor, Steve Lovelady, scrawled across it, “What one page one rewrite man will do for another!”

After the Army, Bill entered Harvard Business School and left with an MBA in 1965. He worked in advertising sales for Cowles Communications’ Look magazine, but he disliked the business. He got a job as a reporter for the Suffolk Sun on New York’s Long Island, and then joined the Associated Press for about six months before beginning work at the Journal at the end of 1969.

Bill had a sardonic sense of humor. As a page one editor in 1971, he took a half-serious dislike for a woman he had never met, the subject of a profile he edited, a woman whose  life was devoted to a variety of worthwhile causes. “She’s a total Goody Two-shoes!” Bill said. He spent one evening writing a pitch-perfect parody of the Journal piece he had just edited. Later, in 1982, Simon and Schuster published Bill’s novel, “Immediate Release,” a slapstick spoof on Manhattan public relations connivance and jet-set society. Among the characters were Stanley Lacquer, a mafioso and kidnapper; and socialites the Duchess of Sockingham and the Princess von und zu Zug.

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