August 8, 2020
Greetings to the few who will remember me, all good wishes to the many who knew Bill in different times, different places. Many thanks to Nicola McClung for all she has done to arrange this ceremony.
Bill McClung was an editor at Princeton University Press when I came to know him in the late sixties. I was immediately attracted to his blend of energy, curiosity, and gentle good humor. We talked about books, we played tennis, we became good friends. When an opening came up at Berkeley I urged him to apply. He was well prepared to specialize in the humanities, which he did with distinction for many years. Prize winning books. Books in series that he commissioned. Who can forget the magisterial, 3-volume Plan of St. Gall? Acquired by August Fruge, but a hugely difficult and complex project with two headstrong authors who involved themselves in every detail. Bill managed the editorial and production process with his usual elan. It won major prizes.
As it happened, there was another tennis player at the Berkeley office—Karen Harvey. A recent Stanford graduate, fast on her feet, an unorthodox backhand. A cheerful, witty, razor-sharp wisp of a woman. She was a worker bee in the sales hive so we didn’t have to worry about lines of authority. It was not long until we were all on the tennis court. Not long thereafter Bill and Karen became a couple.
Bill and I had a curious relationship at the office. We often took opposing sides when discussing whether or how to publish a book. We took devil’s advocate positions, but never with rancor or scorn. We trusted each other enough to play with ideas, to reveal our insecurities, to push each other to do better. We probably bored our colleagues. We both applied for the directorship at UC Press when August Fruge announced his retirement; we compared notes on the experience; neither of us was well qualified.
Bill’s early sales experience gave him a realistic sense of markets, prices, distribution channels. You might even say he was obsessed with the most basic of problems: how to sell scholarly books. This was unusual among editors. Why not, he argued, establish several stores around the world that would specialize in university press books? Where better to start than Berkeley?
Bill acquired partners, purchased a building, inspired volunteer labor by several of us, and made it happen. Just do it! he would say. All while continuing his editorial work. I was an early investor in Bill’s bookstore and took his side when some at the Press argued with his proposed sales plan or worried that his dual role, at the store and at the Press, would lead to conflicts of interest. It was such an original idea. It was a consignment model with special features.
For awhile, it seemed a good plan for all the world’s university presses. In fact, with Bill’s help new stores were opened in London and New York city. This should have led to several more, adjacent to major universities. I still don’t know why that didn’t happen.
For a couple years after the retirement of Phil Lilienthal, Bill and I co-managed the editorial department. We continued our Punch and Judy shows at meetings; just our way of supporting each other. I don’t recall a single real argument over our managerial duties. Perhaps our proudest achievement was clearing the way for three young editors, one after the other, each of them really good at her work, to bring their newborn babies to the office. All day, every day! This was feasible because other employees welcomed the innovation, but also because at the time we inhabited a two-story building on Durant Avenue that had been designed as a medical office facility. Lots of small offices, formerly used as examining rooms, each with its own door. Wall-to- wall carpeting that absorbed sound. One of these offices also had a sink and closet; that became the nursery.
Of course it was really the mothers who made this work. They devised clever coping strategies and became masterful multi-taskers. As for their office-mates, each of us had a door we could close when necessary. But that seldom happened. Consider the scene: Baby on Mother’s lap, perhaps crying, the telephone rings. Mother reaches with one hand for a pencil, the other for a certain page of a manuscript, phone cradled under chin. Often one of us would happen by and seize the opportunity to enter Baby’s world—pick up the kid, burp it, walk around the office. A Baby Break! Authors loved it. Morale was high. The babies were calm, never shy, I think they benefited from being socialized by a large nuclear family. Who would have guessed that one of the major hurdles for working mothers—how to get through the first year—depended on such mundane details as doors and carpets? At the first birthday, by which time a confined infant had become a wandering toddler, we would have a party. Mother would blow out a single candle and Baby would then enter a new existence in some form of day care.
We never asked anyone’s permission for these irregular practices, there was no negotiation with HR. We followed one of Bill’s maxims: Just do it! Bushy eyebrows raised, a face wreathed in smiles, alive with determination. Just do it.