I was saddened to read Ashbel Green’s obituary today. My first year out of college, I worked as the receptionist at Alfred A. Knopf where he was senior editor and vice president. In addition to greeting the stream of celebrities and mega-authors who stepped off the elevator at the 21st floor,* I was also assigned the transcription of the editors’ correspondence.
Ashbel Green was one of the editors whose tapes appeared at my desk each week needing flawless transcription. Via the wonders of the Dictaphone, I typed up his first letter which he concluded with the mysterious phrase, “Sigh agg vip see.” Huh? Was it some New York publishing world lingo? I typed how I imagined this book insider argot would be spelled, and returned the sheaf of correspondence; each letter closed with the mysterious incantation.
He was back at my desk in moments. Tall, slender, patrician, Ashbel Green was too well-bred to blow up or scold loudly. His whispered, “That’s an abbreviation for Sincerely yours, Ashbel Green, Vice President, Senior Editor” was delivered with such utter disbelief at my incompetence that I remained scared of him for the remainder of my time at Knopf. Or maybe it wasn’t disbelief at all, but merely the exasperation of a very busy man used to having simple tasks completed well and in good time. Would have been nice had someone given me a clue. Would have been responsible had I asked his assistant to parse the unintelligible sign-off.
No matter. I admired Ashbel Green greatly. I liked the easy way he was with the other editors and with the editorial assistants, all of whom called him Ash. The man who published Walter Cronkite and a band of dissident writers, was one of the great ones. As Knopf’s publisher, Sonny Mehata said in today’s New York Times obit, Ashbel Green was “a link with the past.” Perhaps my admiration for him came from sensing that link with the past. He projected an aura of solidity, a fealty to deep and honest values that was palpable, even to a wet-behind-the-ears receptionist trying to get her bearings.
Farewell, Mr. Green. No doubt, hopeful angels are brushing off their manuscripts and queuing up outside your door.
Debra B. Darvick
*Although Cronkite arrived on the scene after I left,
Knopf’s elevator doors revealed the best and brightest of the literary and entertainment world at the time: David Halberstam, Chaim Potok, Michael Herr, Swifty Lazar, Diane Keaton, Mark Helprin, Marge Piercy, Lauren Bacall, Arthur Rubinstein just to name a few. No wonder my fingers fumbled on the keyboard.