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Hedy Halpert: a life on its own terms; known for raising the bar in food trade publishing, Halpert leaves behind a set of values and vision essential for all in the industry. (Fast Forward).

This month I'd like to invoke editorial privilege and step from behind the comforting protection of the third person editorial "we" into the less protected, but more personally accountable first person "I." The subject of this column is the death of someone who was often a competitor and always a friend, a death that leaves a palpable void in my life, this industry and trade publishing. I have started this piece a hundred times, each attempt ending in muted frustration. The facts are simple: On March 13, Hedy Halpert, by any lights the Grand Dame of food trade publishing, passed away after a baffle with cancer. Less easy to wrestle with is the scope of Hedy's contribution and the consequent size of our loss.

Many of you might best remember Hedy as the publisher and enfant terrible of Convenience Store News. Her career in trade publishing extended beyond that role, but that's perhaps how most will think of her. Less well known is her life after C-Store News--the frustrations and disappointments of battling the corporate bureaucracy that so many trade publishing companies have evolved into; the opportunity to be among the leaders of the Network of Executive Women (NEW), a cause so close to her heart; and the sad realization that the opportunity that could have redefined a career was being snatched away by a series of life-threatening, and ultimately life-taking, illnesses.

This isn't an obituary; it's a farewell note to a friend. When Hedy died, I spoke with Darrell Stewart, our librarian at FirstMatter and the former librarian at Progressive Grocer. "She was in almost all respects larger than life," I told him. He responded, "I prefer to think of those kinds of individuals not as larger than life, but rather as embodying exactly what life ought to be all about. They just remind the rest of us that we have a lot of catching up to do." It couldn't be better said.

Hedy was a relentless, sometimes ruthless, competitor. She believed in trade publishing with a passion that made her simultaneously feared and fearless. But, when the chase for the ad budget or stray page of space was over, she could be your most gracious friend. She would try to put you out of business one day and, if she were successful, try to help you find a job the next. She approached life and business on her own terms--loss was unconscionable and ties didn't count.

Perhaps the saddest footnote to Hedy's life is that so much of what she--and others--fought so hard for is being incrementally dismantled by apathy, greed and the changing vagaries of the marketplace. Hedy believed in the commercial power of great editorial. She believed in the ability of trade publishing to make a difference, not just a profit. She believed that there was a community of readers out there in the industry that both needed and deserved the sometimes-hard truths that would help them be better. And, most importantly, she believed in people--their talent, passion, energy and ability to collectively make a difference.

Trade publishing today is very different than it was when Hedy entered the business. Then a small circle of people--often family members and a collection of talented editors, salespeople and production staffs--battled daily to capture the imagination, the respect, and, yes, ultimately the dollars of an industry. They took chances. They had strong opinions. They were the thought leaders of the industry and, more often than not, its conscience. Their work set the terms of industry debate. They were loved, and hated, but rarely ignored.

Today the world is much different. Many trade magazines (present company excluded) have lost their vision, dampened their fires and, as a consequence, lost their reason for being. Trade publishing has a different role than it once did. No longer suited to lead the industry, most trade magazines have become content to follow, obsequiously begging for table scraps. The phrase "trade rags," once a warm term of endearment, has become a coldly objective descriptor. It is a world someone like Hedy Halpert would have had a hard time imagining on her most despondent day.

Earlier, I said this wasn't an obituary. As I sit and write about the loss of a friend and competitor, I'd rather remember her spirit and her vision than her death. My memory of Hedy will always be of a powerful woman unwilling to accept life on its own terms, insistent that it could, and should, be something bigger and better--a testament to the presence of those who passed through it. That's how I'll remember Hedy Halpert, not dead and gone but alive and vital. My only hope is that in our lives we can somehow be equal to the example she set for us and never lose sight of our convictions, our obligations or each other.

As I look around trade publishing today I see so much work that needs to be done, beginning with convincing a whole new generation of readers and advertisers that trade magazines can, and should, be a vital part of their professional lives. There may be a more fitting tribute to Hedy Halpert than that, but at the moment I can't think of one.

So, goodbye old friend. You raised the bar for all of us. Now it's time to see if we are equal to the challenge.

In addition to being executive editor of Grocery Headquarters, Ryan Mathews is a futurist with FirstMatter, a futuring consultancy with offices in Detroit, and Westport, Conn. He can be reached by e-mail at www.firstmatter.com or 810-774-9813.
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Author:Mathews, Ryan
Publication:Grocery Headquarters
Date:May 1, 2002
Words:931
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