My First Editor Has Passed On, And I Miss Him


His widow didn’t want any fanfare, but I feel people need to know. My very first editor, Jamie Udell, died last year. I didn’t know about it until I got Jane’s holiday card in December, and it took me until now to convince her I could write something with grace.

You be the judge.

The backstory: In 1981, I moved from West Palm Beach to Loxahatchee Groves so my husband could cover five acres with the landscaping of his choice and the kids (then ages 3 and 1) could play freely among snakes and alligators. It was an adjustment.

I was born and raised in Milwaukee, a fairly large city, and have always been a fan of concrete. To keep my sanity, I read The Palm Beach Post and the two weekly newspapers in existence at the time, The Town-Crier and The Sun Press. Jamie and Jane owned the latter, operating it from a barn on their Loxahatchee Groves property.

It was my unstudied opinion that all three papers could use some humor, so I wrote up 10 sample columns and submitted them to the two weeklies under the title, “Loxahatchee Life.” I had never written professionally before but, like many others who are not good verbal communicators, I liked to write. The column focused on our five acres and the dead alligator, noisy peacock, Florida panther and stubborn, not-leavin’ donkey that I discovered on it in those early days. I also wrote about the local nudist colony, the “Loxahatchee Car Wash” (also known as a canal) and local bumper stickers that read, “Loxahatchee: Love It and Leave It Alone!”

Curious about the lighter side of Loxahatchee, both Bob Markey Sr. of The Town-Crier and Jamie offered to run the column, but Jamie offered me $5 more per week, as well as something else — a feeling difficult to explain.

I went out to meet with him and Jane at their barn, and the first thing I saw when I got there was what I assumed to be a full-blooded Seminole Indian woman standing on a dock on the edge of their pond. She had hair down to her knees and appeared to be spearing a fish. I watched to see if she would now reach for her arrows.

Jamie greeted me dressed in a work shirt, blue jeans and boots, and we sat down to talk a bit. He told me he and Jane used to run a head shop in Greenwich Village. Jane told me the Indian woman’s hair was a wig. I had no reason to doubt them, still don’t.

Over the years, even after they moved on from The Sun Press, Jamie and Jane continued to interest me. They had certainly come a long way from Manhattan. Their children were healthy and smart. They had adapted — maybe I could, too.

Jamie held a number of jobs over the years. He was a real estate investor. He worked as a lobbyist. (“You suit!” I admonished him when I first heard of this.) But whatever he did, he did with integrity, wit and humor.

Under various titles, my humor column went on to be featured in The Palm Beach Post and, now, The Town-Crier. On its 30th anniversary, I sent Jamie and Jane flowers with the column attached, to thank  them for having the confidence to give me my start.

“Good thing you attached the column,” Jane said, wryly. “We had no idea what the flowers were for.”

I’m a legend in my own mind.

But Jamie was a true legend. When struck by a mysterious and tenacious illness, he fought courageously to overcome it and did. But then it was back. Again and again. Eventually, he simply got tired of fighting. “Stick a fork in me, I’m done,” he told Jane.

He also asked her not to waste time on sadness and, to that request, she’s making a valiant effort. But Jamie Udell is sorely missed by many.

True to form, I can’t talk about it. My only outlet is my column, now 36 years old.

Thanks, Jamie.