Ben Stein's Diary

Stein Loses Meagher

Jim Meagher, RIP. Another great Barron’s editor has died.

By 6.14.13

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Tuesday
Today, while I was visiting my son and daughter in law and granddaughter in wonderful Greenville, SC, marveling at the loving gift my son and his wife had given me for Father’s Day -- a triptych of my Pop, me, and Tommy and his daughter, the roof fell in.

I came back to my hotel room and opened the e-mail to read a simple e-mail from Pauline Yuelys, an editor at Barron’s. She told me that Jim Meagher, my idol, my hero, my mentor, my rock of Gibraltar, the greatest guy on this planet, had suddenly died on Monday.

Now, let me tell you about Jim Meagher.

When I first started writing lengthy pieces for Barron’s about ethical lapses by managers of public corporations, my boss was Alan Abelson, the legend who died about three or four weeks ago. But my editor, who edited my work, was an Irish-American man with the friendliest voice you could ever wish for. His name was Jim Meagher and he had been at Barron’s for a long time.

“Meagher,” as I came to call him just as he called me “Stein,” was an adroit, even magically insightful editor. His touch was light and he knew how to connect the dots.

He was invariably friendly and jovial except on a few occasions.

Once, when I suggested a negative piece on a huge Investment Bank that had been a large advertiser in Barron’s, Meagher hesitated for a moment. I said, “Look, I know how the world works. If you don’t want a negative piece on a major advertiser, I will understand totally.”

Meagher said to me in a fury, “Uhhhh, if you ever even suggest that again I’ll never speak to you again. That’s not how we work at Barron’s. Go ahead and do the damned piece for this weekend.”

Another time, when we were eating lunch at Côte Basque, which used to be one of my favorite restaurants, and Meagher had ordered his usual two martinis (as we looked at Jackie Onassis), I asked him, “Can you really do an afternoon’s work after two martinis?” He said, “I can do a better afternoon’s work than you can after your damned Diet Cokes.”

He apparently felt bad about this outburst because he then added, “What you don’t understand is that martinis at lunch are like breasts on a woman. One is not enough. Three is two many. Two is just right.”

Point well taken.

Many, many the day I would get threats of lawsuits from managers whose behavior I had criticized. I always passed them on to Meagher, whose invariable answer was unprintable, but it was something difficult that the threatening were supposed to do to themselves that did not involve litigation as normally understood.

Meagher -- like Alan Abelson -- was fearless. Unlike many other editors in the finance space, he had absolutely zero respect for any man or woman in the world of money who had gotten the goods by acting badly. He had more admiration for the man who swept the floors at Dow-Jones than he did for the junk bond, Meyer Wolfsheim types (Great Gatsby reference to the bond swindler for whom Jay Gatsby worked) and their billions. He was never for a minute a fan of Milken even as many around him at Dow-Jones were.

Meagher, like Alan Abelson, was a Ben Hecht/Charles MacArthur type of Front Page journalist who fancied himself unsentimental. (Again, he called almost everyone he worked with by their last names.) But he was in fact a kind, forbearing, generous spirited gentleman with a keen sense of humor.

Many years ago, he required open heart surgery for some sort of occlusion. I wished him well, prayed for him, and when he came out of surgery, he had a story to tell. He said that as he was emerging from anesthesia, he heard me talking to him. No, it was not a delusion. The TV above his bed was playing one of my scenes from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. “I can’t escape from you even in the ICU,” he said, in his typical, mock curt way.

Meagher served for a time as editor of Barron’s after Alan Abelson went to work full time on his column. Then he retired and then he came back as a consultant and senior advisor/editor. I had the pleasure of talking to him but not often enough.

He went through the worst kind of hell about a year and a half ago when his wife died. They had been married forever and when a man loses his long-time wife, it’s usually only a matter of time before he joins her.

So, now, Meagher has joined his wife and his colleague, Alan Abelson, and the loss is overwhelming. He was my friend, my inspiration, the kind of man you could trust with your life and the kind of man the investor needs for the unvarnished truth. There is a sucker born every minute and two to take him and one Alan Abelson and one Jim Meagher to protect him.

“Meagher!” I used to cry out when he answered the phone, “it’s Stein.”

“Stein,” he would say, “it’s Meagher. How is life under the palm trees?”

Lonely today, Meagher, lonely.

Thursday
Now I am back in Beverly Hills and just this morning a kind man named Jeff Saut from Raymond James, a great financial house, sent me some quotes from my father via another great guy, Dougie Kass. The main quote was from my father when he was being yelled at about inflation during his days as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers (sic, not Advisors). He said, "Look, if you just take out all the things that went up in the CPI, it actually went down." He also said, "We are against inflation. We are against deflation. We are for 'flation.'" When I read these words, I sobbed again and then thought of Meagher and sobbed more. I am losing my mind with grief over loss. I should add that I am the Warren Buffett of wives. I have the best wife on the planet, which makes me the richest husband on the planet. I am not sure why I added that. I guess I really am emotional today.

 

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About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.