One of the attributes of a strong staff of journalists is the ability to renew itself, to add fresh, superior talent continually, not just to keep up with the times and the competition but also to replace those the staff must inevitably lose. And this month we must begin meeting a difficult challenge of this sort: replacing a highly valued staffer indeed, Senior Reporter Rose Mary Mechem, who is retiring after 27 years at the magazine.
Mechem has long been our chief researcher and reporter on articles dealing with environmental issues, an area in which SI takes considerable pride in its achievements. She has worked closely with such writers as Robert Boyle, Bil Gilbert, Jerry Kirshenbaum and the late Robert Cantwell, investigating, interviewing and coming up with much original material. "I was never trained as a researcher," Mechem says. "I taught myself, treating each story and subject as a different problem, which indeed is always the case."
Mechem has also served SI well on numerous non-environmental projects, one of the more memorable being John Underwood's acclaimed study of the causes of and cures for the academic abuses committed in the name of college athletics (May 19, 1980). That topic engaged her skills on and off for more than a year before publication. And though reporting and research were her forte, Mechem wrote several stories for SI.
For many years Mechem was a spokesperson and tough negotiator for the positions of The Newspaper Guild in its relations with Time Inc. Given Time Inc.'s half-century commitment to an independent organization to represent editorial employees, such advocacy is of considerable importance in our offices.
All of which seems a long jump for the Rose Mary growing up in Wichita and later studying at what was then Washburn College in Topeka, all the while yearning to become an actress. She earned the money to acquire her theater arts degree at the Pasadena Playhouse drama school in California by working for the Santa Fe Railway in Topeka, counting what were known as Parmalee coupons (which entitled passengers to transportation between depots when transferring from one rail line to another).
After completing her studies in Pasadena, Mechem spent a year in Europe as a member of the Civilian Actress Technicians, entertaining occupation troops following World War II, and then performed in summer stock before coming to SI.
Now she retires with her husband, Douglas Gordon, to his boyhood home on Mercer Island, in Lake Washington near Seattle. There, Rose Mary will study piano, do some boating and cross-country skiing with Doug and "think about jogging."
We'll miss her.