R.I.P. Roxanne, the greatest copy editor ever 

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click to enlarge The best copy editor ever, shown above in the hands of her father, Ronald Clark, was born in 1958.
  • The best copy editor ever, shown above in the hands of her father, Ronald Clark, was born in 1958.

There she sat, training copy editor after copy editor, fixing their mistakes and their psyches.

The little girl from Tarpon Springs, Fla., head filled with facts and wonderment from reading all those books, was now an important woman, chief of the news copy desk, but certainly not a Boss. (Rox could never be a Boss — she wasn't from their tribe.) Though she'd hate a war analogy and remove it from a story every time, she was "in the trenches." Her nighttime co-workers appreciated that. They revered her for her talent and her steely, steady resolve on deadline. She handled the biggest workload of anyone, and she did it better than anyone.

"From time to time, I would go up to her with questions about grammar or punctuation or sentence structure, and she'd quietly give me an answer," recounts Brett Halbleib, a former member of Roxanne's copy desk and now a copywriter at a Carmel-based marketing firm. "When I was new at The Star, I'd look at a rule book after hearing her answer, and every time, she was right. But there'd be no know-it-all in her response. It'd always be, 'Well, I think the rule is this.' The amazing thing is, even though people would come up to her continually with questions and she'd always answer them, she did way more actual editing than anyone."

Thrust into her copy chief role because of her talent, she was thrust into the role of therapist because of her compassion. As much as Roxanne avoided crowds and parties and speaking at meetings, she could handle one-on-one. Co-workers at The Star saw that, and they approached her. With editing concerns. With funny and sad stories of family and pets. With petty disputes. As much as she wanted to concentrate on her editing, she never turned people away.

"I always felt I could have gone to her with anything," says Star copy editor Bill Huddleston, long regarded by Rox as a kindred spirit and one of the best copy editors she ever supervised. "I knew whatever it was, she would always have my back, and I think almost anybody who worked for her knew that, too. Her compassion made you do your best work, and her talent put you in awe. I never feared her disapproval, but I always tried to earn her respect."

Rox, who attended a year of college before running out of money, had no degree. But she indeed was the resident psychologist on The Star's copy desk. She always spoke softly; that's the only tone she had. And since one-on-one was her thing, that's all she needed. She soothed feelings. She solved problems. She settled those petty disputes — and her decisions were accepted as final. She was the Don Corleone of the nighttime newsroom, except she sent people home to sleep with smiles, not the fishes.

She also had folks smiling, sometimes laughing riotously, at her irreverent quips and sometimes bawdy sense of humor. A few years ago, a manager had some serious business to discuss. She stood by Rox's desk, blouse unexpectedly opened by a couple of rebellious buttons. A lot was exposed — and the manager was oblivious.

After the manager walked away, Rox quipped to a red-faced male co-worker: "Talk about a wardrobe malfunction." And back to work.

If you wanted to get her goat, you could say something nice about W. She didn't like Bush. She called him "Shrub" when she wanted to use a nice name for him.

If you wanted to make her glow, you could say something nice about Bill Clinton. She loved him. The Monica stuff, the inquiry stuff ... it really pissed her off. She believed in Bill Clinton and wanted him left alone — by Republicans and the media — to do his business. She sent money to his legal defense fund. (Always the professional, her political leanings never affected her editing.)

And if you wanted to make her glow a passionate red, you could mention George Clooney, or the Aerosmith guys, or dogs. She thought Clooney was so handsome. She thought Steven Tyler and Joe Perry were so sexy. She thought dogs were God's greatest creatures. She never completely got over the loss of her beloved Jumbo ... or Snoopy ... or Squirt, Jumbo's sister. They died many years ago.


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Pete Scott

Pete Scott worked at The Indianapolis Star from 1992 to 2004, when he left The Star voluntarily. Today he writes ad copy and manages projects for Scott Design.

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