THE DESIGN PRIZE 2021 For Experimentation Goes To Objects Of Common Interest

Institutions of long standing typically have figures the public associates with the place. At a magazine, that’s usually the writers, and at Texas Monthly, those names are well-known to longtime readers, who will occasionally write in and reference decades-old stories as if they ran just last month. They’ll recall Skip Hollandsworth on Dallas’s eyeball killer, Mimi Swartz on Channelview’s cheerleader murder plot, Gary Cartwright on Jack Ruby, Jan Reid on redneck rock, Prudence Mackintosh’s writing on her kids, or Pam Colloff’s reporting on the wrongfully convicted.

But inside Texas Monthly, in our own private folklore, there are figures who stand just as tall, if out of sight of the readership. They might have been the people who laid out the pages, enforced the comma rules, or made sure the magazine made it to mailboxes. They toiled long years without acclaim or big paychecks, but did so with a bright smile or ready song that made pressure-filled tasks like overnight deadlines bearable—even fun. These are the staffers who’ve made this place special and kept Texas Monthly going. Fact-checker Chester Rosson, who worked here from 1975 to 2006 and died this week after a long and absolutely unfair fight with cancer, was one of those figures.

At first blush, Chester was an odd duck. Short and mostly bald, save for a low-lying ribbon of thin white hair, he was built like a snowman, his face and torso almost perfectly round. A lifelong devotee of thrift store safaris, he was not afraid to wear shirts that looked pulled from a smaller man’s closet, always tucked snugly into a pair of dress slacks.

But once he spoke, once you heard his voice, that image fell away. He had a deep, rich baritone that dripped sweetness, and he knew how to use it. A trained vocalist and serious listener to all manner of music, he was often encountered mid-song. You’d find him rolling into the kitchen for a morning cup of coffee, singing a selection from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. Or sitting at his desk, rifling through a reporter’s files and humming one of Bach’s chorales. Or at a bleary-eyed, late-night editing battle at our stand-up desk, turning to a writer unwilling to accept one of his corrections and breaking into a favorite Roky Erickson tune, “You’re gonna miss me, baby.”

An Army brat born at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, Chester moved to his father’s hometown, Crockett, for junior high school, then studied German and biology at Rice University. In late 1975, he started at the magazine as a copy editor, part of the coterie of Rice University alums—founding editor Bill Broyles, his successor Greg Curtis, Griffin Smith, Paul Burka, and Anne Dingus—who powered the magazine in its early years and first brought it to national prominence. He left the magazine and Texas in 1979 with his wife, Barbara Burnham, who’d taken a job editing at Cornell University Press. But two years later they were back in Houston, where their son, Robin, was born, and a year after that, Chester was back at the magazine. He fact checked and edited, and wrote on topics that, as far as the edit staff was concerned, were squarely in only his wheelhouse, such as competing interpretations of Gustav Mahler by the Dallas and Houston symphonies and the peaceful resolution of a zoning dispute between San Antonio’s King William District and a 125-year-old German men’s singing club called the Beethoven Maennerchor.

He moved to full-time fact checking in 1993, and that’s where I got to know him, after I hired on in August 1997. At that time, there were three of us in the fact department, and we were sequestered in a small space the size of a custodial closest, sitting in three cubicle carrels with a fourth space given to reference books and an old typewriter. Chester and David Moorman, Texas Monthly’s original full-time fact-checker, were already legends to the staff, essentially aesthetes and soul mates, but different as night and day. Chester was pure pack rat, his space overflowing with finds from monthly trips to the St. Vincent de Paul store—musical scores, old German-language magazines and books, photographs, record albums, little sculptures—all stacked to unreasonable heights and leaning at precarious angles. David, on the other hand, was a soft-spoken, erudite poet and minimalist, and his adjacent space was pristine. At any given moment, his two desktops would contain only his computer monitor, a short stack of the files he was working on that day, a copy of whatever he was reading at the time, and a tiny Zen rock garden the size of a candy dish. Once I established myself in the office—and became known for doing things like sneaking into Chester’s space when he was away and changing his screensaver to a photo of twelve-year-old country singer Billy Gilman—a copy editor started calling us Junk, Monk, and Punk.

But it didn’t take long to understand just how vital Chester was to the magazine. For one, there was his fact-checking, which I learned immediately is a thankless task. Every single date, name, place, quote, and event described in a story has to be checked with its source. When that source is a book, the job is easy. When it involves verifying a quote with the person who gave it—often someone who didn’t want a story written in the first place—the conversation can get ugly. From my adjacent cube, I heard Chester trapped in that kind of phone call all the time, but he never once responded with anything but grace. And later, once I made the move to staff writer, I relied on that grace when we worked on stories of mine.

Source : https://www.texasmonthly.com/being-texan/chester-rosson-remembrances/

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