In Memory of John McMeel

John P. McMeel, Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Kansas City-based Andrews McMeel Universal (AMU), passed away July 7, 2021.

I was so sad to learn of John’s passing. He played such an important role in my life! I wish I could be there for his memorial, but the current restrictions and border closing make that impossible. What I would tell you if I was there would be that John was amazing. Far from being the unapproachable CEO one might expect to find in a big, successful company, John was “one of the crew.” Oh, he could be tough and businesslike. He could be formidable if he had to be…but his door was always open, as was his mind. I had my “times” with John. I had my snits and complaints! John listened with interest; he took us all seriously and he was almost always willing to make a change. I think this is rare.

One of the many things that made John unique was his genuine enjoyment. He didn’t hide his love for his work, his staff, and his family. There was no “them and us.” When John talked about us all as a “family” he truly meant what he said!

I was very nervous when I first met the folks at Universal Press. The offices were on Squibb avenue—and much smaller of course, than they are now. I was living in Lynn Lake, Manitoba—a northern Canadian mining town of about 800 people—and here I was in a metropolitan American City, about to sign a contract with a successful syndicate of people who would be expecting a lot from me. Sitting at the big rosewood table in the UPS meeting room were John, Jim Andrews, Lee Salem, and a couple of other folks, waiting for me to sign. In front of me was a contract that would keep me working for 20 years. Could I possibly do this? It was daunting and my right hand didn’t want to touch the pen. Jim and Lee began to ask me questions about my work and my life,  just to break the silence. After some discussion, I said, “Well, I guess I’d better look at this again, eh?” John jumped out of his chair and cried “There it is! She said it!” Apparently, they had some kind of contest to see how long it would take a Canadian to say “EH!” This was great fun. I signed and went off for a celebratory lunch with Jim and Lee. How fortunate I was to have had that time with Jim Andrews. A short time afterwards, Jim passed away and I never saw him again. He too was one of a kind.

With some time under my belt and with Lee’s help, I began to produce some worthwhile material. Still, I was nervous whenever I came to Kansas City. John and Susan took me out to lunch and tried to make me feel at home. Susan was refined and lovely. John was handsome and serious. He seemed so confident, wearing a new style of glasses which only had one arm. I asked about the glasses. “Are you serious?” Susan exclaimed. “Those aren’t some fancy new-style glasses—he busted the damn arm just before we left the house!” John sheepishly removed the glasses and showed me the broken frame. We laughed and the nervousness went away. These were real people I was talking to! I felt “at home.”

Over the years, there were so many “at home” times. John and his associates always made us feel exceptional and appreciated. John’s speeches before a noisy dinner crowd were legendary and he never let us down. With easy candour, he would tell us all how proud of us he was, how happy he was to be our host, and how excited he was to be working in this diverse and often controversial industry. He stood up for us in so many ways.

I am honoured to have worked for, and with, John McMeel. I will miss him and I will remember him with affection, appreciation and thanks. His loss is profound.

Read more about John’s legacy here.