Back during the ’80s, for reasons that continue to escape me, I decided to jump-start a mid-life crisis. Most guys wait until they’re into their fifties to do this sort of thing. I figured I’d crank ’er up a decade early.
So, I quit commercial seafaring cold turkey and caught a train from Tampa to the wilds of Westchester County, New York, on the suburban fringe of the Big Apple. Work-wise, I was at loose ends. I’d done the going-to-sea thing, and the newspaper-reporter thing before that. What was next?
“Interesting item here in the want ads,” said a friend one morning, handing over a page from the New York Times. “Looks like this magazine—Power & Motoryacht—needs somebody who knows boats and can write.”
Job interviews were conducted by -Bonnie J. O’Boyle, editor-in-chief of Power & Motoryacht, in Stamford, Connecticut, the magazine’s home port. And I suppose it was Bonnie’s cheery, anything-is-possible take on life, her penchant for subverting the stuffy proprieties of publishing and her deeply compassionate nature that got her to hire me. I was a total wild card at the time, a poor fit, perhaps, for office civilities and hobnobbing with the yachting set. Bonnie didn’t care.
“Cheerio! Don’t worry—you’ll be great,” she said when I finally took leave that morning. The sentiment and its expression were typical of her. Not only did she enjoy helping and encouraging other people, she also enjoyed augmenting the process with a British-ism or two, despite the fact that she was Bucks County, Pennsylvania, born and bred.
I soon discovered that working for Bonnie was pretty darn interesting. She was a total pro—the first-ever female to head up a marine magazine. She was tall, slim and bespectacled, with a lightning fast wit and an unerring command of the English language, both written and spoken.
Her resume featured a magna cum laude degree from the University of Pennsylvania as well as wunderkind stints at all the major recreational marine titles of the day—Rudder, Motorboating & Sailing, Boating. Moreover, she’d co-founded Power & Motoryacht only a couple of years before, and since had invented the term “megayacht” and created the PMY 400 World’s Largest Yachts and the PMY 100 Top AmericanYachts, innovative showstoppers that would often be copied by other publications but never equalled. And, by dint of her spirited, charismatic personality, she enjoyed a host of salty, influential and internationally famous friends and confidantes (like William F. Buckley, the conservative author and commentator; Malcolm Forbes, the wealthy publisher of Forbes magazine and owner of legendary Highlander; and Jon Bannenberg, the prominent English-Australian yacht designer) who might “pop in anytime,” as she once put it to us staffers.
As with all dedicated, driven individuals, Bonnie had her moments. Fiercely protective of the irreverent and wildly popular Spectator column she’d ingeniously cooked up with yacht designer Tom Fexas, she once convened a fiery, impromptu, all-hands-on-deck meeting in her office after discovering that Tom’s copy had been modestly tweaked by a few of the more, shall we say, conservative members of the staff. “Silly,” was the mildest word she used to describe the sacrilege.
“I don’t want Fexas tampered with,” she declared at the meeting’s conclusion, looking around the room with a steely gaze.“And that’s final.”
Sadly, Bonnie passed away a couple of months ago. For me, the news of her death brought shock and a deep sense of loss. Although I stayed in touch with her after Power & Motoryacht was sold in 1990, telephoning her occasionally to hear about the globe-trotting travels that highlighted her retirement and the gentle adventures she so obviously enjoyed with her nieces and nephews, our conversations were far from frequent. During one of the more recent ones, however, I thought to thank her for hiring me way back when and handing me a brand-new career. I’m ever so glad I did.