Memorable Moments: The Virtues of Being Helpful

By Jack Limpert

In the spring of 1977 I had been at The Washingtonian for eight years and was in New York City for a conference on magazine publishing. As I was walking through the Hilton lobby a man stopped and introduced himself and asked if could we talk for a few minutes about city magazines—he said he was about to buy Baltimore magazine. We found a quiet corner and he asked such good questions that we talked for almost an hour. As we parted, he handed me $50 and said, “Enjoy dinner on me.”

The Washingtonian then was owned by Loc Phillips, who had grown up in Washington and started the magazine in 1965. By 1977 it appeared to be doing pretty well—circulation and advertising numbers kept going up but we continued to lose money and none of us felt that confident about the future.

Then on a March morning in 1979 Loc stopped at my office door and said, “Would you come into my office.” When the owner says that in a serious tone of voice, the editor’s heart skips a beat.

As I walked in, Loc said, “I think you know Phil.” Getting up to say hello and shake hands was Phil Merrill, the man who two years earlier had asked such good questions in the hotel lobby.

The Merrill family still owns The Washingtonian, and during my next 30 years there I always told each intern class that journalism was not a dog-eat-dog business, that most the people who did well in journalism were good to work with and helpful to others. I’d tell them that if they went out of their way to be helpful to other journalists, including publishers, they’d be surprised at how often that help was returned.

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  1. Wonderful story! I especially like the part about being helpful to publishers! My father was so lucky to have your help/mind/guidance/support. He told me so often.

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