Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Al Vogl

Remembering AJV

At Medical Economics, a financial magazine for physicians, chockfull of expensive ads, we regularly submitted “green sheets” – story ideas on green paper. The top editors would comment on them, giving them a no or a yes or a “rework.” The final decision was made by our genius of an editor, RCL (R. Craigin Lewis). But just before his comments came those of AJV (Al Vogl)—brief, shrewd, and (almost always) decisive. I proposed an article on how white doctors should deal with black patients. Everyone shot it down—except AJV, who pointed out that with the coming of Medicare, doctors might be seeing many more elderly blacks. RCL agreed.
***
Al was so good-natured, he was profoundly reluctant to hurt anyone in any way. The most severe dressing-down he ever gave me was: “You sure took a long time on that story!” Intelligent, inquisitive. With a warm, winning smile and a terrific sense of humor. One of those people whose company you love. When he took the helm of Next, a future-oriented magazine, and invited me aboard, we had a grand time.
One unusual thing we did at Next was to conduct Delphi polls. We asked a group of experts a series of questions; then sent their answers, and their comments, back to them for a second vote. Usually a few of the experts changed their answers--as they abandoned positions they weren’t that sure of. We did Delphi polls on which stocks to buy now, where the next nuclear war would occur (India-Pakistan), and the consequences of our first contact with alien creatures. One question in the last poll was: Have we already been contacted by aliens? Carl Sagan answered yes! He was in a distinct minority. On the second round, he changed his response. But we never published the article; the magazine folded first.
As editor of Medical Economics, Al had had a tough managing editor under him. He needed one at Next. Lots of infighting. Al was lucky to leave before it folded.
***
MD magazine, a cultural magazine for physicians, was perfect for Al, with his unbridled curiosity, his wide knowledge of the Two Cultures, his good taste. I made him very happy when I wrote an article about Typhoid Mary, and was able to publish a letter she had written that had never been published before. What tickled him was a letter he received from a physician-reader, furious that we had run the letter he was planning to be the first to publish!
***
Being gracious and charming has its rewards. He bought a Meerschaum pipe, and right outside the store, dropped it and broke it. He went back into the store and asked for a new one. “You broke it, you own it,” he was told. He laughed pleasantly. That did it. The clerk smiled and gave him a new pipe.
***
Waiting for a bus near the New York Academy of Medcine, Al was accosted by a young kid who demanded Al’s money. Al gave him a fistful of change—and a piece of his mind. Something like: What is this city coming to where you can’t even wait for a bus without getting mugged! The kid’s response: He threw the money back at Al and said, Keep your damn money!
Al told that story and laughed and laughed.
***
He was a rare gentleman. It was truly a privilege to work with him and to know him.

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