When Jeremiah Tax retired as our Executive Editor last year, he took a month off and then came back to work. Now he's listed on our masthead as a Special Contributor, which is, really, what we feel he's always been.
One of his most recent contributions was the notion of doing a story on the triple-overtime North Carolina Kansas NCAA basketball championship game, which took place 25 years ago this week (page 58). He covered that game for us when he was a staff writer and when college basketball was, at best, a regional game. "I always wanted to do a retrospective," says Tax. "I saved my notes and game stats. But I got lazy, so I asked Frank Deford if he'd like to write it." It's not at all surprising that Tax chose Deford to do the story. When Tax became our basketball editor in the early '60s, he picked the young Deford, a one-year veteran of SI, to be his writer. "I've always admired Frank's original way of looking at things," says Tax, "and the amount of energy he brings to stories."
The admiration is mutual. When Deford became our basektball writer, he covered both the college and pro beats. In fact, he and Tax were our whole basketball department. "Jerry was a good editor," says Deford, "but we'd have our fights. It was my feeling at the time that not one word of my copy should be changed. I still feel that way. The only difference is I'm absolutely right now, and I was occasionally wrong then."
Nonetheless, Jerry, a stern syntactician and grammarian, has the final word at SI these days. Although technically retired, he comes in and works for us one day a week, arriving at 10 a.m. Sunday and departing, a bit bleary-eyed, at 11 a.m. Monday. He is what we call the "final reader," a job that entails reading almost every word in the magazine, from the cover billing through the 19TH HOLE, before it is printed. He rights grammatical wrongs, points out redundancies, helps fit copy and generally saves us from making any number of gaffes.
Never one to lie down on the job, Tax often lies down on the job from around 7 a.m., when he usually finishes reading copy, until 10 a.m., when the staff comes to work.
How does he manage to stay awake all night? "I eat a lot of candy," says Tax, "and smoke too many cigarettes." This is not to say he doesn't keep fit, a basic requirement for one who works such long hours. "Five mornings a week," he says, "I run two miles. No more, no less. I've been doing it for almost 18 years." One of the presents he got at his retirement party was a pair of the most expensive running shoes on the market. "They're worn out now," he hints.
Fortunately for us, Tax is not. Of his "new" career at SI, he says, "I spent 25 years of my life here and I'm proud of every minute of it. I'm so pleased to see my name on the masthead. I've always enjoyed working with words and writers. It's all I ever wanted to do."
MONDAY AT 7 A.M.: TAX RETIRES TO HIS OFFICE COUCH