On a piece of poster board in her office, Lindy Hess kept photos of the 100 or so students she guided each summer through a six-week intensive introduction to the publishing industry.
Known as the Radcliffe Publishing Course before it decamped to Columbia University in New York City more than a dozen years ago, the program was a boot camp of sorts for those who aspired to enter the industry. “When they get a job, they get a star,” Ms. Hess told the Harvard Gazette in 1998, explaining the hand-cut stars that adorned many photos.
Constellations of the program’s former students fill the publishing industry, which for 25 years relied on Ms. Hess to not only train would-be employees, but to know who would fit best in any particular job.
“She was an absolutely essential link between job seekers and people in the business who were seeking good people to work for them,” said Robert Gottlieb, who formerly was editor of The New Yorker and editor in chief of Alfred A. Knopf. “She could figure out who would be good for whom, and she did that for me on several occasions, having known me so well. But then she kept up with people who were maybe five years or 10 years into the business. Anybody with any common sense in the business, needing to fill a particular slot, would give Lindy a call, and she almost always had someone up her sleeve.”
Ms. Hess, who arrived in Cambridge in 1983 as a senior editor for Doubleday before becoming director of the Radcliffe Publishing Course four years later, died of lung cancer July 13 in her Cambridge home. She was 63.
“Lindy Hess was the epitome of a good teacher, dedicated, passionate, inspiring, and always seeking the best for her students as their careers in the publishing industry flourished,” Drew Faust, Harvard’s president, said in a statement. “She leaves an unparalleled legacy of literacy and leadership.”
The legacy Ms. Hess left in the publishing industry can be measured in part by the number of her summer program’s graduates who found employment.
“Don’t worry; you’re all going to get jobs,” she told a 1998 class when a reporter from salon.com sat in.
Ms. Hess was not just boasting. Even when the economy was weak, the job placement rate did not dip much below 90 percent.
“She made a tremendous contribution to the field,” said Gottlieb, who added that the program under Ms. Hess “gave a tremendous headstart to young people hoping to get into the world of publishing, so that they went into it knowing a great deal of what it was and what was required.”
Nicholas Lemann, former dean of Columbia School of Journalism, said in a statement that Ms. Hess “was fanatically dedicated to her students, not just collectively, but individually. Her ability to steer the publishing course was remarkable, and her reward was the pleasure of seeing generations of her students rise to leadership positions.”
Born in New York City, Ms. Hess grew up on Park Avenue in an affluent family and graduated from The Spence School, an all-girls private school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Hers was a childhood and youth that including lunching with Truman Capote and meeting a teenage friend’s boyfriend, who turned out to be the future actor Al Pacino.
In 1972, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from Wheaton College in Norton and returned to New York to work in publishing.
After starting out as a secretary at Alfred A. Knopf, she moved up through the industry to become editorial director of Doubleday’s Dolphin books division before turning 30.
One rainy day in Manhattan, Ms. Hess was in a cab with Dr. William Appleton, a Cambridge psychiatrist she would marry in 1983, when “a third person squeezed in uninvited to share the ride,” he recalled while speaking at a private service last week. “It was Jackie Onassis, who seemed to want not only to keep dry but also to check this new guy from Cambridge who was stealing Lindy, her mentor at Doubleday, to become his life partner in distant Cambridge.”
Known for her extensive publishing connections and an enviable Rolodex, Ms. Hess had more than her share of work demands, but dinnertime at home was sacrosanct, as were the hours she set aside for her husband and their children, Samuel and Eliza Appleton, who both live in Cambridge.
“She was the organizer/
director of our family, as we often like to say,” her son said. “Everybody depended on her. I depended on her for career advice. I depended on her for girlfriend and personal advice. Every decision I’ve made in my 29 years I would run by my Mom. I think the level of support I got from my Mom, and the love and respect, is something I will cherish forever.”
Ms. Hess’s husband noted that “she was a public figure, but she could come home and turn it off and be with us. That was her extraordinary gift, to combine career and family. One of her many gifts, of course.”
The summer program, which became the Columbia Publishing Course after moving to New York, was perceived as having lost some of its cachet when Ms. Hess reinvigorated it upon her arrival in 1987. To participants she was both encouraging and realistic. “A lot of people come into this business because they’re idealistic,” she told Newsday in 2001. “My goal is to temper their enthusiasm, but not crush it.”
Three weeks into the program, participants broke into smaller groups to form de facto practice publishing houses, filling roles as publisher, marketing director, and editor in chief.
“People don’t necessarily know what they want to do in publishing when they enter the course,” Ms. Hess told the Harvard Gazette in 1998, “but they come out saying, ‘I’m a marketing person,’ ‘I’m a circulation person.’ . . . It helps them focus.”
In addition to her husband, son, and daughter, Ms. Hess leaves her brother, Mortimer Hess III, and her sister, Elizabeth Hess, both of whom live in Manhattan. The family will announce memorial gatherings in Cambridge and New York.
Upon being diagnosed, Ms. Hess was determined to live long enough to attend her daughter’s graduation in May from Colby College in Maine. Intending to make it through one song at the commencement ball, she “ended up staying for 10, dancing with Eliza, Sam, Bill, and Eliza’s friends and their families,” her husband and children said at last week’s service.
Ms. Hess’s husband said their daughter is “like a little version of Lindy.” At Friday’s memorial gathering, Eliza “had a wonderful line in her talk, like a musical phrase,” he added.
“She said, ‘My mother used to put me to sleep, and now it’s my turn to put her to sleep,’ ” he recalled, “and I think that was the most emotional moment of the service.”