It surprised those who didn’t know her well that Sarah Jewler, the managing editor of this magazine, who died last week at age 56, from a rare blood disorder, had spent a few years on a commune in the early seventies, playing music, living off the land, having plenty of the sort of fun that people in their twenties like to have. But the way Sarah always described her role there was: “I was the managing editor of a commune.” Another way of saying this is that she was a communard—she loved playing a central role in a group enterprise. But she didn’t need the spotlight. As a drummer (she played in the eighties downtown orchestra the Ordinaires, and countless jams), she was the opposite of Keith Moon. She liked to get in a groove and stay in the background, beaming as she played.
In the office, she was practical, methodical, indomitable, a cheerful comrade, and sometimes fierce gatekeeper. “I’m a soldier,” she said about her work life. And it was true. She arrived every morning (armed most often with a corn muffin she’d consume for most of the day, neat wedge after neat wedge) ready to go to war.
In the office, living close to the land meant sharing a foxhole with editors from Jane Amsterdam, Clay Felker, and Peter Kaplan at Manhattan, inc. to Jon Larsen at the Voice (possibly her most hazardous post) to Kurt Andersen, Caroline Miller, and Adam Moss at New York. She knew she was going to get shot at, and didn’t mind shooting back. She loved being the voice of reason, questioning, applying her common sense, making sure people had their feet on the ground. She loved the magazine, the sitcom drama of it, the frenzied weekly pace. (She would have rolled her eyes, as Miller said, at the idea of someone important at the magazine dying on deadline.)
In a business where people pride themselves on their talk, Sarah’s gift was listening. She drew people out. They wanted to confide in her, which was her strength. She took keen amusement in people’s foibles, which made her an excellent gossip. She howled with laughter over the latest outrage. But she operated according to a strict code of gossip honor: If you told her to keep a secret, she kept it. She was a truly wonderful friend.
And she was an optimist. She had every confidence she could push back, wear down her disease, outlast it. We’re terribly sad that this is one battle she didn’t win.