Two weeks ago, I heard about Frank Rich’s resignation from the New York Times OpEd. As a columnist he is one of the hearts and arguably the soul of that page and the paper. I was hoping to read his farewell column in last weekend’s “Sunday Opinion” but it was not there. Rich’s departure came after a week of regrettable goodbyes from my favorite New York Times Magazine regulars, Rob Walker (Consumed), Deborah Solomon (Interview), Virginia Heffernan (The Medium) and Randy Cohen (The Ethicist), but there was no column from Rich. Was he leaving without a word?
No. I was assured that words would come the following Sunday, and so it did. A gracious column that spoke about his need to carve out more writing time and space. “I found myself hungering to write with more reflection, at greater length at times, in a wider and perhaps experimental variety of forms (whether in print or online), and without feeling at the mercy of the often hysterical exigencies of the 24/7 modern news cycle,” he writes. “While some columnists are adept at keeping their literary bearings over long careers. . . those who stay too long risk turning bland or shrill. I wanted to quit before I succumbed . . .”
Some will miss his forthright, sage and often witty voice – I know I will – others will doubtless say good riddance (he was one of those who early-on mounted the barricades against the Iraq War). Yet for readers of this space, I believe we can all agree that the most touching moment in this farewell was this:
“It’s not easy to leave a home like The Times, where so many friends and brilliant colleagues remain. I am grateful to all of them, as well as to a pair of unexpected collaborators, the artists Seymour Chwast and Barry Blitt, whose inspired drawings took on an Op-Ed life of their own.”
For a writer to thank not one, but two illustrators in such a way shows not just magnanimity but an honest appreciation for talents and contributions that often go ignored. Thank you, Frank Rich.
(One of my favorite Blitt drawings above.)