ef stnek en It’ s t e r associate with funeralsfor mu er people who ave died une accid ents er t Then p eopl e: begin to speak Rapoport. And it helped to have writers and editors who were willing to work for cheap. But Cliff was at the center of all that, keeping each essential part working. To put it another way, Cliff gave the prime years of his career to being a magazine publisher. He worked without the prestigious title, salary, and perks that most magazine publishers get, and yet he managed to do what it seems to me only a handful of publishers in America do well: to provide a forum for editors and writers to do their best work, wholly independent of the whims of the publisher. The longer I’m away from the Observer, the more I appreciate how rare that is. I am not one to be objective about Cliffs decision to give his all to keep the Observer alive. What it means to me is that Cliff, as much as Ronnie, gave me the opportunity to work five years at the Observer; and those are years I treasure. But what about Cliff? What did he get out of it? I can only hope he died knowing he had accomplished something remarkable and that he was leaving behind a lot of appreciative friends. I have reasons to believe he knew that, and took satisfaction in it, in his own private way. Former Observer editor Dave Denison is editor of a new quarterly, CommonWealth, published in Boston. Geoff Rips ?HERE’S SO MUCH that Cliff Olofson doesn’t have to worry about anymore. He doesn’t have to worry about having enough money to pay editors. He doesn’t have to worry about how to pay printers. He doesn’t have to worry about how to pay freelancers. He doesn’t have to worry about subscription renewals. He doesn’t have to worry about fundraising letters. He doesn’t have to worry about direct mail to attract new subscribers. He doesn’t have to worry about the families of editors. He doesn’t have to worry about staff health insurance. He doesn’t have to worry about the host of young people he found work for, he fed, he cajoled back into school or, at least, out of trouble, whom he continued to rescue from wherever they were even as they became adults. Cliff no longer has to worry about keeping the Observer running with bailing wire and paper clips and keeping Observer editors fed and sane and feeling, somehow, blessed. Cliff came from a religious community in which good works, no matter how small, were deemed holy if done well. Cliff was self-taught in almost everything he did, and he did it well. When it was time to transfer Observer business operations to a computer, Cliffwho spent years of nights hunched over a ledger with a set of No. 2 pencilstaught himself how to move the lists and notes he meticulously kept to a computer. But Cliff was not impressed by technology. It was only useful if it allowed the Observer in personal touch with our community. With the computer, he could personalize your subscription history more easily, address your needs more efficiently. Not so with an answering machine. He twice rejected answering machines for the office. If we weren’t there, then people would know we were out doing something else. He didn’t want people talking to machines in the absence of a person. You either connected personally or you didn’t. There could be no technological middle ground. Machines cannot mediate for people in a real community. Cliff was a solitary man at the middle of a community, holding it together. In some ways, he was our Bartleby the Scrivener, preferring not to recognize the obvious imminent demise of the Observer at a few critical junctures, preferring to continue working, mailing out renewal cards, moving numbers across his ledgers, willing the continuation of the Observer by the sheer relentlessness of his work. And it worked. It was exasperating at times. Each Observer editor brought with him or her big ideas for changes. Cliff believed in little steps, adding one to another, building a path. Big changes were not in his nature. And he believed they were not necessarily best for the Observer. But he wouldn’t tell you this. He’d let you find it out, while he worked meticulously, one step following another. He was our Zen master. It was the same with his death. Once he found out what was wrong, he began his preparations. He made notes and worked with Frances Barton and others to organize his work in a way that one or two people or maybe threecould carry it on. He made arrangements for the end of his life, so that no one would be bothered or upset, down to every detail, meticulously, calmly. He waited for Frances to finish her finals. He waited for the last Observer fundraising letter to be mailed out. He waited for us to be ready. Then he died. His generosity of spirit was particularly evident when he was talking to children. You could see him consciously push aside his usual reticence to engage the children of Observer staffers directly, hunkering down to their eye level, or, if they were waiting in a car at the curb, as they often were, always coming out to see them, leaning down to the window to look them in the eyes, to hear clearly what they were saying. That’s how I remember him best. Or returning from a run around Town Lake with Joe Espinosa. They were fast. Cliff, with a towel around his neck, momentarily relaxed, without worry, laughing out loud. He doesn’t have to worry anymore. We were blessed. Observer publisher Geoff Rips lives in Austin. 22 JANUARY 26, 1996
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