Judith Daniels: A Thoroughly Modern, Old School Woman

“I wish, as well as everybody else, to be perfectly happy; but, like everybody else, it must be in my own way.” Jane Austen

Judith Daniels, a marvelous and meticulous editor and an extraordinary mentor and friend, died at home in Maine yesterday.

Judy was my first boss in New York City; I arrived in her office straight out of college, by way of a publishing course at Radcliffe that was supposed to prepare its graduates for some sort of career--but of course nothing could have prepared us for the strange microcosm that was the publishing world. I moved into my first rental so overrun with cockroaches that the painters, to amuse themselves, painted over them as they ran, creating a frieze of frantic roaches. I set out to meet Judith, who wanted an intern. Judy had been the managing editor of New York Magazine when I met her, and she was easily the most glamorous woman I had ever seen (having never, until then, I suddenly realized, actually seen a glamorous woman. And if most of my stuff weren't in storage, I would be able to publish a press release photo to prove my point about Judith. )

She was trying to start up the magazine of her dreams, SAVVY: The Magazine for Executive Women. New York Magazine had generously given her a trial launch with an insert in its own pages, so that she could show advertisers what, exactly, an executive woman might be. It was an alien concept, that it might be rewarding to advertise luxury goods (like cars and watches) to anyone but a man. Women got detergent ads.

I will never forget my first day of work. Judy’s office was in a small room, our two desks facing each other. I did my best to dress professionally, and even bought a briefcase to indicate that I, too, might some day be worthy of the title Executive Woman. Judy was already on the phone when I arrived, and she waved me in and pointed to my chair. She was wearing big gold earrings—she always wore them, she had just a few pieces of handsome jewelry and they were her trademark—but she had taken one earring off to talk on the phone and it lay gleaming on her clipboard. She always had a clipboard, too.

I folded my good college girl camelhair coat across the back of my seat and with professional aplomb placed my bag on top of my desk. A giant cockroach crawled out of it, and scurried over to Judy’s side. I froze with mortification. Judy coolly, quietly, quickly slipped off her shoe, never missing a beat in her phone conversation, and that was the end of that.

She was much more scandalized that I had never read Jane Austen and sent me home that day with Required Reading.

“I will be calm. I will be mistress of myself.” Jane Austen 

SAVVY was an uphill struggle. But Judy always maintained grace under pressure. Her motto could have been: Persevere.

“Give a girl an education and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without further expense to anybody.” Jane Austen

Judy was leaning in way before leaning in became a concept. Nothing was going to stand in her way. She found someone who agreed to publish SAVVY and staff up the business side, but first he wanted to get his own magazine off the ground. I found myself working on direct mail and building circulation, while Judy was busy trying to raise money for more direct mail tests of her concept. She also founded, along with some of her friends, the Women's Media Group; I was privileged to be their first secretary, and took notes as they discussed the trials and tribulations of being a woman in a male world....

“There is something amiable in the prejudices of a young mind, that  one is sorry to see them give way to the reception of more general opinions.” Jane Austen

Judy loved “young people” and was often friends with those of us who worked for her. She enjoyed our youthful, na├»ve ideas. Being her assistant was enormous fun. I had no idea, until years later, how lucky I had been to have found her. She was, I figured, maybe ten or fifteen years older than I was, but she seemed to come from another universe entirely. She was meticulous in her appearance, understated and always polished. Her manner was modest, gracious, and pleasant; she was not interested in arrogance.

She was equally meticulous in her organization: she kept great lists, and excellent files stuffed with ideas for stories and photo shoots.  She was an excellent line editor, precise about language and muscular in her suggestions.

I watched her every move—as if she were a Flemish painting that contained clues to being a successful grownup.

“There is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort.” Jane Austen

Judy loved being at home. From time to time we worked from her Manhattan apartment on East 9th Street. Her husband at the time was quite ill, stricken tragically young with myasthenia graves. This was her great sorrow, and she did everything she could to find ways to make him comfortable.

She and I took a road trip to Rhode Island—to Little Compton, which I had not seen since childhood. She was renting a house for a few weeks; she wanted to make sure it would be an easy place for him to visit. That was when I learned that Judy had a profound passion for country music. She knew all the words to the top songs, but she could not read a map, and we got hopelessly tangled up in New Jersey before we pointed eastward.

When I was offered a real, five-figure (okay, low) job to continue with that work, I decided I had better pursue my editorial dream.

“There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart.” Jane Austen

Judy treated her lowly assistant as she would treat her closest colleagues. She was generous, kind and supportive. She used that network of friends and contacts on behalf of everyone. She picked up the phone and called her pal Binky, who was then at Esquire, and we parted ways. I handed my assistantship over to my good friend Lisa, whom I had met at summer camp—and Judy and Lisa became friends too.

SAVVY did get off the ground, and though it eventually folded, Judy, with her great eye for spotting talent, hired writers and editors at the beginning of what would become their own illustrious careers. She was always quite pleased that she had spotted the talents of one young Anna Wintour to produce fashion shoots--long before she became the editor of Vogue.

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” Jane Austen

Judy and I became lifelong friends. What a thrill it was, to hear about the time she sat down at an antiques auction next to a lovely man, Lee Webb, who would become her next husband. Lee was the love of her life. What a thrill it was, when she decided to leave New York entirely, and make a new home in Maine. I was worried that she would miss the excitement of the New York scene but she just brought excitement to her own scene in Maine.

With her characteristic energy and openness, Judy dived into the cultural life of that gorgeous state. She became deeply involved with the contemporary arts scene. And she learned where to find the best farm stands and the best bookshops and the best antiques dealers. Judy adored her little sister Stacey; she was a great champion of what she called “the grown up ice cream sandwich” and plied them on everyone who came to visit. The home that she and Lee made together in Union, Maine, was one of my favorite places; I have written about it elsewhere at Slow Love Life, as Judith was a deeply gracious, easy hostess.

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” Jane Austen

Judith never stopped teaching all her friends how to be a better person. As I write, I’m thinking about why I keep thinking about the “lessons” Judy taught me…but suddenly I realize the answer. The publication Judy and her friends talked about in the last decade or so, the one she really wanted to start but never quite got around to, was called English Major Magazine. Its slogan was “Once an English Major, Always an English Major.” I think it is a terrific idea.

The last time I visited Judy in Maine, she had her usual file folders stuffed with ideas for stories for English Major Magazine. And just like the old days, with Judy as enthusiastic as ever, we sat around brainstorming and getting excited about all the possibilities and promise.

“It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.” Jane Austen

There is no way to adequately sum up the exemplary character of Judy Daniels, a most thoroughly modern, old-fashioned woman; not even Jane Austen supplies a line large and embracing enough. I am glad I had a chance to say goodbye to her, and to tell her how very much I loved her, and how much I learned from her over the years. I miss her. I will try to live up to the ideals of our beloved English Major for Life.


Robert Sam Anson said...

Dominique --

Many, many thanks for this lovely, extraordinary reminiscence of Judy. She was a good friend of ours, too. And when we listed the many reasons why we wanted to move to Maine the thought of Lee and Judy being close by on their farm in Union was always near the top of the list.

Robert Sam

Sheryl said...

Dear Dominique,
This is such a wonderful tribute to your lovely friend. I am so sorry for your loss. Too much loss in your life in the last few years. I did enjoy reading it. Very moving. I have missed you but will be happy to be here whenever you are. Sheryl Finley

Patricia O'Toole said...

Beautiful. It perfectly captures the whole of our amazing friend. Thanks, Dominique.

Nancy Harmon Jenkins said...

English Major Magazine. . . it could be the finest memorial for a remarkable woman.

Carrie Tuhy said...

You've captured my great friend and early mentor perfectly. And, I thank you for it.
She set a standard I continue to aim for but have never achieved. As a young journalist
fresh out of the Midwest, I too thought she was the most glamorous woman I
had ever met. I told my mom at the time: Think Jackie Kennedy but so much warmer.
We worked together at Money and Life and in magazine development. One of my
most treasured possessions is a proposal she wrotfor a woman's magazine. Of course, Time Inc. never moved on it. But I often reread it and it's pure Judy. Right down to
'how to cut a donut" and "why to wear gloves when reading the NYTimes."

Rusty Unger said...

Thank you for this. Judy exemplified what someone once said were the 3 most important things in life:
1) Kindness 2) Kindness 3) Kindness

Judy Stein said...

Just two weeks ago Judith and I had a discussion about whether a man can be a mentor to a woman -- a conversation we will never finish. As I read your comments, I realized what a mentor she was to so many. I wish I had known her in New York and am grateful that I knew her in Maine. She was a lady to the end.

Val Monroe said...

Dominique, thanks for this lovely post about Judy—
such an
extraordinarily elegant woman in every way.

sarahbuttenwieser said...

Another friend of Judy's saying thank you for the lovely tribute to her. Wiping my tears.

smacarol said...

I am sorry that I didn't get to say goodbye to Judy. She changed my life, or maybe made it possible for me to have one. Newly separated from my husband (who was a friend of Judy's first husband), suddenly the single parent of a ten-year-old boy, I needed a job. I had no magazine experience but my friend Jane Howard suggested calling Judy (this was when she was starting Savvy and needed a new assistant). I did have some higher-up experience, but in PR, not the field I wanted. When Judy heard, her deathless response was, "I believe in hiring the over-qualified." So I got the job, the beginning of a not totally unremarkable career in writing and editing for magazines. I was at least as old as Judy when she hired me, so not one of those young innocents. But oh my, I learned a lot.

cindy lang said...

Thank you for writing this. I too loved Judy Daniels, and her sister Stacey, and the family. I am a very very lucky person to have known Judy. thank you again. cindy lang

Marcelle Clements said...

Thank you, Dominique, for this lovely memoir. So sad she is gone.

Lanny Jones said...

Really lovely, Dominique. She was such a class act. Thank you.

Suzan said...

Thank you. And welcome back! I have missed you.

Anne Mollegen Smitj said...

Yes, that is the Judy I knew also, Dominique, though from a slightly different vantage-- as the editor of Working Woman, I found myself a competitor of Judy and Savvy, but we still had wonderful lunches and remained friends throughout our professional whatever-afters. (When a later editor of Savvy whom I hadn't met yet not only turned down flat my suggestion we meet for lunch, she told me she was "offended" by it. In today's parlance, WTF?!!? But it certainly made a vivid contrast to Judy's approach to life.) After Hearst bought Redbook and fired pretty much everyone (but of course as eic, I felt especially "fired"), Judy called me right away with kind and good advice. Thank you for the lovely remembrance. And thank goodness you didn't end up making your career in circulation, plugging numbers into spreadsheets!

Lorraine Dusky said...

Many thanks for this sweet memorial to a class act. I got to know Judy through Anne MS at our time at McCall's, and later was my editor at Glamour. It was always a pleasure working with her.

Suzanne Levine said...

I was among Judy's generation of women editors back in the days when magazines like Savvy or Ms. (where I worked) were considered daring, and foolhardy, undertakings. Judy was always a great supporter of all of our efforts and understood how important it was that we stick together. She was a ringleader in the creation of the Women's Media Group, and I remember going to planning meetings thinking it couldn't be done and leaving certain that Judy could get us there. She will be missed.

Caroline Seebohm said...

Judy was all those things. In an intimidating world, she was the face of calm, warmth and rectitude. Privileged to have known her.
Caroline Seebohm

sarah finnie robinson said...

Absolutely love this, cockroach and all. Thank you. I will share it with my favorite E.M. friends. xoxo

Catherine said...


I did not know Judith, nor do I travel in any literary circles where I may by chance have crossed her path, but you have written a lovely and inspirational tribute to her. Both what you have written about her, and other readers' comments, serve as a poignant reminder that living one's life with grace and kindness is not mutually exclusive with having a successful career.

My condolences to all who knew and loved her.

katrinakenison said...

Dominique, I'm so sorry that is the loss of such a special soul and colleague that brings your words to me today, but I'm grateful to hear your inimitable "voice," which I've missed. Your eloquent tribute touched me deeply -- and reminds me of the kind of person I aspire to be. Thank you.

Ang said...

Dear Dominique,
My deepest sympathy at the loss of your dear friend Judy. I love your tribute and truly admire the treasured friendship you shared with her.
Be well and gentle.

Carol Devine Carson said...

She was a powerhouse in heels and a size 2 dress. I loved working with her at Savvy.

boomarketing said...

It's so difficult to lose amazing friends. I'm honored to know more about Judith from your lovely tribute. Her "English Major Magazine" was a terrific idea, indeed! Deepest sympathy to you and to all who knew her. Godspeed to your mentor and dear friend.

Sandy Donn said...

A simply beautiful post and tribute to a mentor and great friend. A pleasure to read as it makes it all so clear that we are all connected in such a wonderful way. . .thank you.

Linda Given said...

That was a lovely post - and I've been wondering where you were - happy that you're back!

lynn said...

Adding my thanks. Judith moved me, and your version of her did, too. She was a hot shot, but she understood the charm of daily life. She had a great sense of place and a self-aware appreciation of civilization as its flavor-enhancer. I've never been all that comfortable with Jane Austen's wisdom, but you make a great case for it when you yoke it to the graceful courage of Judith's journey.

William said...


Welcome back and thanks for the introduction, for me, to Judy Daniels.

Clearly the circumstance of the introduction isn't great, but it truly sounds like she was an awesome broad and a great mentor and friend.

The description of your first day at work does sound a bit reminiscent of the Anne Hathaway character's first day at work in 'The Devil Wears Prada' - except that Judy wasn't a total bitch like the 'fictional' character played by Meryl Streep. :)

You are lucky to have found someone like her, my mentor was a total prick, sort of a male version of the 'fictional' character played by Meryl Streep.

He's 90 now, a great friend, and I'm certain that I will feel the same sense of loss that you feel now when he goes.

Thanks for a great post.

Judith said...

What a beautiful way to remember such an inspiring friend. I've never known anyone like Judith but I am grateful to know such people are on the planet. All good thoughts to you, Dominique. You have lost too many friends of late.

Jayne Rogers said...

What a wonderful tribute to an inspiring woman! Your words made me think of some of the women that I have worked for, especially the ones who cared enough to pave the way and invite their underlings to get on the path!

Christine Doudna said...

Thanks for this loving portrait of our much-beloved Judy. I too was privileged to know the warm and generous support for which she was legendary -- as a writer and then as a friend. Editors like her don't seem to exist any more. And she created a great magazine. And... English Major Magazine is a pretty captivating
idea, Dominique -- and what a tribute to Judy it would be!

dterrydraw said...

Dear Dominique,
What a really lovely posting.....and the responses are equally engaging and heart-warming (not a phrase this cranky old bachelor uses lightly). Predictably enough, I'd never known that Judith Daniels even existed......but your eloquent tribute and those of others have made me realize, once again, that this is a very wide world, full of surprisingly wonderful people.

Thank you,
David Terry

William said...




Alice said...

Oh, Dominique, I can't praise or thank you enough for this perfect ode to Judy. Deeply grateful to have your memories, too, Alice