I used to tell him this day would come -- that after throwing his whole life at Isthmus, first as a copyeditor, then as arts editor, then as overall editor, Dean Robbins would finally scratch his name off the masthead for good.
It wasn't an easy decision, and I know that because, from more or less the moment we met, 25 years ago, when he interviewed me for an arts writing job at the paper, we've been BFFs. That made for some awkward moments over the years, when Dean, like a jeweler with his loupe, would examine my copy for flaws. Awkward for me, that is. For no matter how perturbed I might get, Dean always maintained a diplomatic calm. In fact, I don't recall ever seeing him lose his temper, no matter how perturbed his writers got, and we're talking some pretty perturbable writers here. The guy's either a saint or a psychopath.
He certainly has the psychopath's ability to focus on the matter at hand, be it a broken sentence, a tangled paragraph or a cover story that needs a complete overhaul starting on Monday morning. And while gently saving the day, Dean somehow got you to feel like you were the one making things turn out better, that the whole point of editing, in fact, was to release something deep inside you -- your best self, that witty, charming litterateur you always suspected you were.
Yes, Isthmus has featured some sizable egos over the years, but with sizable egos (often) come distinctive voices, and Isthmus has featured more than its fair share of those as well, many of them brought to the paper and nurtured by Dean. And let's not forget his own distinctive writing voice -- casually brainy while springing little traps that leave you laughing out loud.
How has Dean maintained such high standards for so long? Ultimately, it comes down to love -- love for the written word, love for the arts, love for Isthmus. I couldn't have counted the number of times I saw Dean down in the production area, checking page proofs for the tiniest error. Typos drove him crazy, made us look bad, so he pored over not just his own stuff but the entire paper, week after week, year after year.
You can't buy that kind of loyalty, but you can give it away, which is part of what Isthmus is all about -- giving Madison what it needs to know, for free. I like to think I'll have another 25 years with Dean, comparing notes on what we've seen, heard and read. But the rest of you will just have to get by without him, a loss that, without his help, is difficult to put into words.