Mr. Chatterbox

Mr. Chatterbox: Farewell to Our Fearless Leader

Mr. Chatterbox pens an ode to Pam Daniel.

By Robert Plunket January 25, 2018 Published in the February 2018 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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Pam Daniel 

As you may have heard, Pam Daniel, who has been editor of this magazine since 1952—I may have the date wrong—is retiring. This is her last issue. A small group of people at the office have suggested that perhaps I might want to write a eulogy—I may have the word wrong—as she is not getting anything else.

I thought back to a time years ago when I interviewed a prominent local man about his wife, who was being honored at a charity event. “Tell me about Mary,” I asked him. “What are her accomplishments, her dreams, her passions, the high points of her life?”

He thought a moment and then began: “Mary first met me in 1965. I had just moved to Sarasota ….” My heart sank. Is that the way men really think about women? As an adjunct to their own lives? Creatures who come alive only in relation to their man—husband, boyfriend, father, son?

At any rate, here is my eulogy:

Pam first met me in 1985. I had just moved to Sarasota and was at the peak of my success. It seemed like you could hardly pick up a national magazine or newspaper without finding an article by me. My novels were flying off the shelves. I was turning down offers right and left.

Then I met a guy named Dan Denton. He owned Sarasota Magazine at the time. I ran into him at the old Club Mary, the nudie bar on Highway 301. He was trying to sell them an ad and I was doing journalistic research. He asked if I had any singles left and we struck up a conversation. When he found out who I was, he begged me to come into the office and meet his editor, Pam Daniel, who had recently been promoted from receptionist/custodian. I thought, why not? It would be a treat for the poor girl to meet a real writer.

Pam was not the sophisticated Sarasota matron she has since become. She was still wearing hand-me-downs from her sister Virginia and was scraping by on the pittance Dan was paying her, working as a single mom to support her two children and keep them out of the juvenile home. But there was something so wide-eyed and eager about her, such unfettered innocence, such a blank slate as far as intellectual accomplishment goes, that I saw it as a challenge. Yes, I said, I’ll write a monthly column. But in exchange you must run Sarasota Magazine exactly as I say.

The first thing I did was to give Pam a crash course in journalism. It was tricky at first, as she had never studied it. But soon, her speling was improving, along with her proofreeding; she was finally figuring out, where to put the commas, and, her (often) confusing sentences were being wrestled under control.

Slowly, under my tutelage, a star was born. From the moth’s chrysalis a butterfly emerged. A new confidence sprang up. Her editing became more skilled, her story ideas more probing, and her sense of what Sarasota wanted and needed to read was sharpened to a fine point. Her own writing became clearer and tauter, just like her face after that free “nip and tuck” she got in exchange for writing the plastic surgeon’s brochure.

For 30 years Pam and I worked in the same room. You get to know a person pretty well under those circumstances. I overheard all her phone calls—and never once did I tell the publisher how many were personal. She kept in constant, almost hourly, touch with her children, who matured quite nicely into responsible adults. Then came the grandchildren, whom she spoils outrageously. I can’t tell you the birthday parties I heard planned, the picking up after school, the medical emergencies. Never was she too busy to take their calls, even if she was in the middle of a conversation with me.

I think that was the unlikely key to Pam’s success—her motherliness. She ran the magazine the way a mother would. She always encouraged and complimented. She rarely scolded, except when necessary. She never lost her temper. She led by example. The task she dreaded most was firing somebody. But she did it. She’d square her shoulders and grit her teeth and stand by the person’s desk as he cleared it out, making sure he didn’t take any company secrets or rubber bands.

Pam edited every column I wrote for Sarasota Magazine. Her biggest accomplishment was to save me from myself, over and over again. She insisted that I have my facts right and that I never be mean. One reason she did this was because she was the person who had to handle the complaints and the canceled subscriptions. Her technique was to listen patiently to the complainer as he or she raged against me, and then agree with them. This took the wind right out of their sails. Soon they were apologizing for bothering her—most of them, anyway. As for the others, we worked out a little formula. I was allowed three canceled subscriptions per column. Anything over that and we knew I’d gone too far.

What I learned most from Pam was integrity—not so much how to do it but at least what it was. Did you know journalists aren’t supposed to accept gifts in exchange for stories? This was news to me, and Pam made me stop. She also kept an eagle eye on my expense account, particularly after I spent $1,200 on one meal and expected to get reimbursed. Mileage was about the only thing I could slip past her (she’s terrible at math), and let’s face it—how much can you drive your car in any given month, particularly when you’re supposed to be sitting at your desk all day?

Above all, she insisted on being fair. One of our biggest fights concerned a well-known lawyer who’s on TV all the time. I wanted to call him a drunk, which he is. He’d had multiple DUI arrests and been sent to court-ordered rehab. There were videos on YouTube showing him slurring his words. But Pam wouldn’t budge. “Maybe he isn’t a drunk anymore,” she’d say in that calm, motherly tone.

And now she’s leaving the stage. They say she’ll be doing special projects for the company, but that’s what they always say. We have a new editor named Susan Burns, and since staying on her good side is crucial to my financial future, I can unequivocally state—like the Trump cabinet during their first meeting—that she is the most remarkable leader I have ever met and I thank her personally for what she is doing for our magazine and our city. She has my complete loyalty.

And some very big shoes to fill. Pam is retiring to her waterfront home on Siesta Key with her boyfriend George—how she has been able to afford such a lovely place on her salary has long been a subject of speculation around the office—and can bake cookies with little Alan, Wyatt, Ellie and Ollie to her heart’s content. But things in Sarasota will never be the same. One hundred years from now, when historians want to know what our town was like from 1984 to 2018, they will have Pam’s tenure at Sarasota Magazine to show them. There will be other accounts, true. But I can guarantee that Pam’s back issues will be the liveliest, the most provocative and by far the most entertaining. Best of all, they have a mother’s loving touch. 

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