Pat Crow (1938–2011)

Charles Patrick (Pat) Crow was an Arkansas-born writer and editor who had an exceptional career at esteemed publications such as the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune, and the New Yorker. He was a meticulous editor who earned some acclaim for his rigorous attention to style, usage, and linguistics, particularly in a long career at the New Yorker. Before his career in New York, starting in late 1962, Crow had a brief sojourn as a writer and editor at the Arkansas Democrat and the Arkansas Gazette, forerunners of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Pat Crow was born on July 14, 1938, in Jonesboro (Craighead County) to Judson L. Crow and Lorene Gibson Crow. His father was a machinery salesman and moved the family, including Pat and a brother, Judson L. Crow Jr., to Little Rock (Pulaski County). Crow attended Little Rock public schools and graduated from Central High School, fifteen months before the historic desegregation crisis there.

Crow worked on the high school newspaper and decided on a newspaper career. He studied at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) for two years and then enrolled at the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia, the oldest journalism program in the country, graduating in May 1960. He took a job reporting for the afternoon Arkansas Democrat but a few months later went to work for the Gazette, at first splitting his time between writing and editing. He soon devoted all his attention to editing for a newspaper that for a century, and particularly under owner and editor John Netherland Heiskell, had been recognized for its high literary standards. The copy desk in the Gazette newsroom became the scene of boisterous disputes over word usage and style with Crow, a barrel-chested redhead, usually settling the uproar, citing arcane rules from Henry Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage. On one occasion, he stood at the copy-desk horseshoe in the newsroom, rapped on the desk, lifted a piece of copy written by his roommate, who was writing at a nearby desk, and said, “Listen up, everyone! Here is a sentence written by the outstanding graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.” He read a horrendous sentence, threw up his hands in despair, and settled back at the desk.

The New York Times hired him as a copy editor in December 1962. He drove his old Nash Rambler into New York City, where it died, and he sold it to the Rambler dealership for $112.50. He rented a tiny apartment near Union Square and bought a three-piece suit. When he walked to the Times building on the morning of December 12 to go to work, he encountered a picket line. It was the beginning of the longest strike in newspaper history, and Crow was unemployed for the 114 days that the Times did not publish.

In the early spring of 1966, the editor of the New York Herald Tribune—which was celebrated as a writer’s newspaper with such colorful writers and editors as Arkansas’s William Whitworth and Charles Portis (later the author of True Grit and other novels), as well as Tom Wolfe, Red Smith, Dorothy Thompson, John Steinbeck, Jimmy Breslin, and Dick Schaap—hired Crow as an editor to restore the King’s English more uniformly to the paper’s columns. But after a long and costly printers’ strike later that year, the Herald Tribune ceased publication. For much of a year, Crow worked for a public-relations firm handling publicity for the world’s fair at Montreal, Expo ’67. Whitworth, a friend and associate of Crow’s since high school, had joined the New Yorker as a writer and editor and talked the editor, William Shawn, into hiring Crow to join the team of editors for the weekly magazine’s voluminous nonfiction. Both Whitworth and Crow later figured in speculation as Shawn’s successor. Whitworth left instead to become editor in chief of the Atlantic Monthly, and the owner of the publishing company passed over Crow for successive editors in chief.

In 1974, Crow married Elizabeth Venture Smith, who was editor of Parents magazine and who revitalized other national publications of which she became editor, including Mademoiselle and Self. They had three children.

In 1980, Penguin Books, a British press, published a novel by Crow, No More Monday Mornings, under the name C. P. Crow. It is the only book he is known to have written.

Crow was renowned at the New Yorker for the great volume of articles that he edited for the magazine’s most celebrated writers for thirty-five years, as well as for the frequent pieces that he wrote for the “Talk of the Town” section at the front of the magazine. In a tribute to Crow in the New Yorker the week after his death, John McPhee, one of the most admired writers in American journalism, wrote: “For three decades at this magazine, starting in 1967, he edited long fact pieces. He took on the writers of such pieces by the barnful; and they became, in multiple senses of appreciation, his conspiratorial friends, who were attracted to everything from his encyclopedic mind and his bonhomie to his bolts of cynicism and the depth of his gossip. Crow’s professional family extended all through the staff, a huge list of whom stayed in touch through long illness to the end, thirteen years after he left the magazine to work in retirement as an editor of books.” After Crow left the magazine, he moved to the town of Red Hook near the Delaware River in New York, where he edited books and magazines, including the Audubon Society’s Audubon, and fished, which also was a lifetime passion.

He died on January 26, 2011. His body was cremated and the ashes dispersed in the Delaware River and into the winds off Pinnacle Mountain on the Arkansas River north of Little Rock.

For additional information:
Interview With C. P. [Pat] Crow, April 3, 2001, Wasatch Railway Station, New York. Gazette Project. David and Barbara Pryor Center for Oral and Visual History, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. https://pryorcenter.uark.edu/project.php?thisProject=2 (accessed May 21, 2022).

McPhee, John. “Pat Crow.” New Yorker, February 7, 2011, p. 25.

Ernest Dumas
Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated: 05/21/2022