Many people who knew or worked with Kukula Glastris described her as “the kindest” or “the most generous” person they had known. It’s a big world, and titles like that can be contested. But I’ve never met anyone whose combination of personal goodness, plus intellectual and professional abilities, exceeded Kukula’s. The large number of people fortunate to have known her now offer support to her husband Paul, and their children Adam and Hope, at the heartbreaking news of her death. Early this summer she developed respiratory problems, which steadily worsened until she died last Tuesday night, at age 59.
In the professional realm, Kukula became best-known for her work as books editor and very skilled story-magician at The Washington Monthly, the magazine of which her husband Paul became editor-in-chief and impresario, succeeding Charles Peters, more than 15 years ago. The psychology of editing requires a surface of encouragement/love/flattery — the ideal first words from any editor, to any writer, on first seeing any draft on any topic, are “Oh, this is going to be great! So wonderful! Now let’s just do this and this and...” — over a core of resolve. (“We’re not quite there yet, let’s look at this last section one more time...”) Kukula had both of these elements in abundance, along with the intellectual insight to know how a changed phrase, or a cut, or an addition, or an allusion could make the story stronger.
One of the Monthly’s strongest recent pieces was “The Best Health Care Money Can’t Buy,” a harrowing but revelatory narrative by Samuel Jay Keyser, a linguistics professor at MIT, about how Veteran’s Administration medical care literally saved his life. When I mentioned via Twitter how much I admired the piece, Paul Glastris immediately sent me an email: “Jim, you probably didn't know this, but Kuku was the one who edited the story! One of the many things I can't wait to tell her when she wakes up.” The last was a reference to her already being under sedation as doctors struggled to find out what exactly was wrong with her lungs.
Paul’s note also suggested something about the relationship between the two of them. Like a large number of people in today’s political-journalism world, Paul had gotten his early training in writing-and-editing at the magazine he now edits, The Washington Monthly, under Peters, its legendary founder. (This year Peters published, at age 90, his latest and excellent book, We Do Our Part.) I had worked at the Monthly several years before Paul and have considered him a colleague and good friend for decades. He is a talented reporter and editor and entrepreneur and writer. (Before taking over the Monthly, he spent time as Bill Clinton’s chief White House speechwriter.) But he is also a tremendously big-hearted, buoyant, cheerfully tough person. Whatever is the Greek counterpart for mensch would apply perfectly to Paul (who is almost comically proud of his Greek heritage)—and, with further gender and nationality adjustments, to Kukula as well. The two of them had a tremendous amount of joy together, and brought joy to others, including through their response to a range of difficulties they faced separately and as a couple, with a jauntiness that set a standard for all around them.
Beyond her professional work, and among people who had no idea about her editorial skills, Kukula left a huge and positive impression through her generosity, love, and humor. You can get some idea of what she meant to her varied communities through messages at this LifePosts site. Those who knew her are the better for her presence in our lives. Paul, Hope, Adam, and their extended family are grieving now but will always carry her influence and example with them. Sincere sympathies to them, and thanks for sharing Kukula.