Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Life, Death, and the In Between
I removed this post and put it to one side, as I wasn't sure it was my story to tell. But the Women's Weekly magazine has just published a lovely tribute to Caroline Roessler here – link.
Hindsight is a curious thing, isn't it? Often, it's only when we looked back on life that we realise how lucky we've been; how the people we've met have shaped our lives in ways we couldn't have foreseen.
Fourteen years ago I was given a job on a Melbourne magazine. It was a tiny editorial team – a "one-hand band" as someone dubbed it – of half a dozen people that included Matt Preston, in his first role as a restaurant critic. TV critic Melinda Houston was there too, alongside Virginia Imhoff, who's now the Victorian Editor of Country Style magazine. I was the junior journalist, and I remember thinking in my first week, as I read the brilliant copy the others effortlessly typed out in less time than it took me to make a cup of tea, that I had a lot to learn. Our editor was a woman called Caroline Roessler (above). She was an incredibly beautiful person, but her looks belied a tough interior. The only other editor I've ever admired as much was Alison Boleyn on Sunday Life magazine, who once told me, in a kind but firm tone, to "go back to the stables at Flemington and smell the muck", meaning I had to not only rewrite the cover story on the Melbourne Cup but actually get up into the haylofts and down into the manure piles to really understand the place I was writing about.
Caroline Roessler's skills as an editor didn't go unnoticed. After our magazine folded she moved to Sydney, where, for almost a decade, she became Managing Editor of The Australian Women's Weekly (at that time Australia's biggest title), and then Editor of the much-loved Notebook magazine. (Remember that lovely publication?)
Last year, Caroline and her partner decided to leave Sydney and its media maelstrom and buy a vineyard in the Barossa Valley. She still wrote, penning sharply observed pieces for The Hoopla, which she'd founded with Wendy Harmer, but her life had changed course and she was clearly content. Her tweets were blissful snippets of a life that many of us wished we also lived.
Then came the news: Caroline had contracted leukemia. Even more shocking was the fact that if she hadn't gone to the doctor when she did she would have died by Christmas. Those who knew her sent her emails of support. I'd already been in touch earlier that year, encouraging her to write a book. I wanted to write a long letter but I didn't know where to begin. For the first time in my life, I didn't know what to write.
For the past six months, Caroline's partner has kept a blog. It has been heartbreaking to read. There was silence on the blog for a little while and then, last week, the news none of us wanted to read. Caroline had only a few days left to live. So I sat down to write her an email. A letter I should have written 14 years ago. Thanking her for the opportunities she gave me, and telling her Heaven would be fortunate to have her on their editorial team.
Hundreds of journalists owe their careers to Caroline Roessler. All those words they've written. All those stories over the years. All those pages, and images, and headlines. All those coverlines, big, small and in between.
The legacy that Caroline has left is indeed a lovely legacy to leave.