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My editor is gone


Too fast for us to get him to a hospice in the Caribbean, my dad died on the seventh floor of Durham Regional. He'd made each of us promise that there would be no service of any kind. No embarrassing moments of emotionalism. Terry Sanford gave the best eulogy I ever heard for his older brother, Cecil, an off-the-cuff, 30-minute tribute that was eloquent, funny and loving. It was also, oddly, one last chance to brag on his older brother, and I had hoped I would have the honor as Don A. Preston's No. 1. So, an end-run is in order.

For me it's always been the story of Don and Sue. For 53 years they had babies, played tennis, cards and Scrabble. They always watched the evening news and Jeopardy. He got the final question right every night for weeks until 48 hours before he died.

There were always books upon books. Every house they ever lived in was full of books. He worked as an editor in New York City after graduating from the University of Louisville in 1951. Don knew Ginsberg and Kerouac, edited the Marx brothers, Charles Mingus, Tink Thompson. He and Sue kept having babies, moving to successively larger apartments in the West Village. He taught us to read, took us to the library, gave books extravagantly.

He worked all over New York for publishing houses of varying descriptions. But the best years he would get fed up and freelance from home for a while. I vividly remember getting off the school bus, changing out of my school clothes, grabbing a snack and going out to the office. We'd talk books and he would edit first drafts for me. When I was a sophomore in high school he was the official advisor for my English independent study, so we read Faulkner all year.

Don absolutely loved to drive—and talk. He would help his friend Mort Cooper through paralyzing bouts of writer's block by driving around all day to work it out. He was once bailed out of jail by William Kunstler. He corresponded with many people for decades, then typically burned those files before Sue or I could read any of it.

He was a gold-medal husband and dad. He had the really good skate key. He was a first-rate handyman with a great collection of wood scraps and wheels for downhill racers. He decided to build a house, went to the library, got out some books and built a house. Don was a huge Star Trek fan and laughed to the end at Spock's almost immortal parting words, "See you later." Sue drove him to bridge five weeks before he died, and they won!

I could ramble on. What can I say; my editor has left the building. In honor of the man who taught me to read, I would like to suggest that donations be sent to the Orange County Literacy Council in memory of Don Preston. R.I.P.

And for Sue, straight from the old man's radio, this is the song of the day: From the first time I saw you/ I knew/ I'd have a never ending/Love for you.

Your No. 1.

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