Farewell, Larry Ashmead

Lawrence Peel Ashmead, editor and publishing legend, has died.

Larry was one of my mentors when I was a green young editor at HarperCollins back in the 1990s. His corner office was a congregating point for up-and-comers like me. We knew that Larry would help us figure out the best way to present a project at ed board to maximize our chances of a getting thumbs up. It didn’t help me when I put up “Hot Dog Soup and Other Man Food” but boy, was he encouraging.

When I had a run in with a crotchety editor who felt like ripping into an assistant for no particular reason one day (perhaps the coffee shop had run out of Hazenut?), it was Larry who made a point of tracking me down and telling me a story revealing the roots of that person’s irascibility to boost my confidence. “Forget about it,” he said, pressing into my hand a cassette tape of some homegrown midwestern choral group he thought I’d appreciate. He always remembered I was a midwesterner and told me that was one of my finest qualities.

Whenever I came into the office and found a perfect red tomato on my desk–and on the desk of all my colleagues as well–I know it was as gift from Larry who loved to share the bounty of his country garden. And whenever I took life too seriously, Larry seemed to know just when to pull me and some other assistants into his office and regale us with a story about Isaac Asimov’s skirt chasing, or his own auntie who turned out to be an uncle after all (apparently, Auntie quite a skilled cross dresser). We’d talk shop after hours, listening to his wisdom as we fiddled with his collection of tacky salt and pepper shakers. And every holiday, I looked forward to the plane trip home with Larry’s Funnies, a photocopied collection of funnies people from all over the world sent Larry that he wanted to share so we could have a good laugh.

Larry introduced me to the wonderful K.T. Foster, a British book packager with a rock and roll sensibility, as he just sensed we’d hit it off. I bought my very first book from her–a book on how to play lead guitar like the rock and roll greats. Of course, before we met, he told me a funny story about her that summed up her personality. I will always remember Larry saying, “You know, I know a funny story about him…” Once, he even said it about the person as he was walking up. Larry turned beet red! But what an honor, to know that Larry could tell a good one about you.

They don’t make him like Larry anymore, but the tales of his funny exploits, his kindness, his willingness to mentor young people, his desire to be the hub in the six degrees of separation that connect us all, and his bottomless passion for a good book will live on, retold over many a drink in bars all over Manhattan. To Larry!

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