Before I made it to the 23rd floor in the Time-Life building, I was an assistant at Fortune, writing stories about burgeoning hip-hop entrepreneurs like Daddy Yankee I feverishly pitched, and calling John Deer for product shots for summer gift guides. That’s when I wasn’t going on coffee runs (as the designated pickup person, I always got one free), or tracking down the notepads or cowboy hats my forgetful boss misplaced in cabs.
After what the cowboy hat lover called “boot camp,” I received his full endorsement to take on an editor role at TIME, the magazine perched on my coffee table and doctors’ offices, a Pulitzer Prize-winning global force. I remember squealing in a parking lot at McDonald’s when I heard the news on my voicemail:
“Welcome to your new family at TIME.”
During my first weeks, I was in awe. Intimidated was an understatement. At 23 years old, I stepped into top-tier journalism at its best. I’d sit in the back of the conference room, where editors and writers from around the globe practically set the news that the entire world would talk about that day.
TIME’s widely-respected film critic, Richard Corliss often walked in and took a seat along the side of the room, just like me. On my first day, I couldn’t mouth more than a quiet hello. He shared the movies he’d been commissioned to see, quietly. Yes, he’d seen Star Wars and The Matrix before the entire world. Yes, his opinion is the only one that made up the “TIME says…” booming reviews in movie trailers. But in person, he was just a cool quiet guy who just really loved film.
As months passed, my office started to resemble me: a huge Dave Chappelle’s Block Party poster covered a wall, an issue with then-Senator Barack Obama on the cover was in reachable distance if he happened to stop by the office. In the halls, Corliss would nod, and I’d nod back. I mostly listened to his weekend movie recommendations. I loved that he was always a fan of well-done sci-fi, but watched Nicholas Sparks films just the same. When asked if he’d bother with a movie some might think wouldn’t be worth his time, he’d say, “Everything is worth seeing.”
At that point, I felt like one of the editors. And we became family. A holiday or two spent pushing out an issue on a national disaster like a tsunami, or the surprise passing of Heath Ledger, has an unspoken bonding ability. And my likes and opinions mattered, too. I redesigned the Inbox column to reflect the world’s increasing adoption of social media. As a first-adopter of Facebook when it was only available to the Ivy Leagues, I earned the trust of editors to let me own the space. I began to implement my own editorial vision to current events that directly affected me, and I was encouraged to fly. What will always be special to me was reaching out to students involved in the Virginia Tech shooting. As we tracked the status of their loved ones on Facebook, and the news became darker, I wanted to create a light. And the result was a memorial edition in the students’ words, as well as their parents. I’d continue to reach out to decades-long pen pals who’d send us personal op-eds in letter form. Every story was worth reading, every opinion mattered and I was unknowingly trained to see the world with an objective eye. I thanked God quietly every time Bobby Ghosh, the Iraq war correspondent, was back in the office and able to tell us his stories in person. If he could risk his life to tell the story of grieving Iraqi families, and narrowly escape being shot down in planes, then any and every story I encountered would be given the same respect.
Above all, Corliss was a huge reminder that the silent Giants are monumental in impact. His kind manner and magical way with a sentence, caused the reverence seen today at the time of his death.
In his honor, his entire life is a reminder to tell great stories, and make words mean something.
And do it all with a kind, humble spirit.
Thank you, Corliss.