Thanks, Tim

By | 2018-07-02T09:44:48+00:00 July 2nd, 2018|
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For almost a full generation, our editor Tim Gilmer has guided and mentored us, making our words more relevant and powerful. Now it’s our turn to tell him how much we appreciate all he’s done for us, and for our readers.

Illustration by Doug Davis

Illustration by Doug Davis

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Living Life to the Fullest

As the member of the editorial staff who lives closest to Tim’s Oregon home, I have had the great fortune to get to spend the most time face-to-face with him over the six years we’ve worked together. Our rendezvous usually take one of two forms. Either I drive down to his walnut/tomato farm for a lovely afternoon watching swarms of hummingbirds feed on his deck while his grandson builds elaborate structures and plays in the fields, or I find myself navigating a full hospital parking lot in search of an accessible spot so I can check in on him after his latest medical adventure.

It’s a stark contrast, but probably one many of our readers can identify with. One day things are hunky-dory, the next everything is upside down. Having had my personal share of medical adventures and knowing how difficult it can be to remain positive, I am continually impressed by Tim’s unfailing determination to return to his beautiful home and get back to his life.

There are a number of reasons why Tim has been able to so deftly guide NEW MOBILITY over the last 17 and a half years — his writing and editing skills obviously, his people skills, and his candor and willingness to share his experiences — but first and foremost is that he literally personifies the magazine’s underlying ethos: refusing to let a disability get in the way of living life to the fullest.

In each of the 211 issues of NEW MOBILITY Tim edited, he invited readers onto his porch and candidly chronicled his journey to stay there. He leaves an unparalleled body of work that will help future readers and allow them to get to know the man that I am so honored to call a friend.
— Ian Ruder

Just the Kick I Needed

As the newest staff member for New Mobility, I can think of no better tribute to Tim than to say that he helped turn me into a writer. Of course, I thought I was a writer before I first contacted Tim in 2010, looking to do some freelance work for the magazine. I’d sent him a memoir-ish piece of text that I’d used in my application for MFA programs and was quite proud of. I’d carefully crafted the prose and spent countless hours refining descriptions, mostly of the forest near my Alaska home. I’d never thought to consider the story I was telling, or who I might be telling it to.

After buttering me up with a few compliments about my “command of the language,” he let the hammer drop. “What you sent me is too much about too little. There is no story. It is almost like a writing exercise in description, and the reader is asked to supply the theme and story. Magazine writing is different. Space is valuable, literally. You can assign a dollar value to each square inch, and readers have short attention spans.”

He went on, but the message was clear — if you want to write for us, write something that is worth its space rather than waxing on about squawking crows and decaying conifer stumps.

It was just the kick in the ass I needed. Over phone calls and emails, he helped guide me through the process of magazine writing. Wrestling my often-florid prose into something tight and interesting to the readers of NEW MOBILITY was a process, one that Tim undertook with a great deal of patience and understanding.

Looking back, I realize that before Tim shook some sense into me I wasn’t actually a writer. I wrote, but it was primarily for my own amusement. Actually being a writer, instead of just saying you’re one, is about putting the reader first and telling stories that offer something to the world outside of yourself.

It’s something I’m still working on, but I can’t thank Tim enough for starting me along the path.
— Seth McBride

The Heart and Soul of NM

Who knew Tim Gilmer before he arrived at the top of the NEW MOBILITY masthead, back in late 2000? Barry Corbet had retired but by reputation and myth still embodied the post. I guess I’d heard Tim had 35 years on the gimp trail and that he taught writing at a college, and that he had a little organic farm outside Portland. Is he the guy to carry forward the vision?

Well, yeah. Apparently he was.

At some point I started writing a few features and a monthly column for Tim called Uncle Spine. He was forced to be patient with deadline indulgences, but we hit it off just fine — we both cared about getting it right, about entertaining and informing the NewMobe hive.

I came to appreciate Tim as a nosy reporter in 2002 when he flew to New York to interview Christopher Reeve — set up by Random House to flak Reeve’s new book, Nothing is Impossible. I had been to visit Reeve a few years earlier at his Pound Ridge home and told Tim how I had left behind a brand new linen jacket that no one in the fairly chaotic household could ever locate. Tim said he’d look for it; sure enough he reported in his piece that when left alone he snooped through Reeve¹s closets looking, but with no luck.

Writers love good editors. They can make your rocks into gems. Tim was decisive with language arts, weeding out tropey journalism and sloppy syntax but not so lapidary as to dull the patina of style. Tim was what you want in an editor. Collegial and encouraging. He always justified changes and was always transparent. He never made any attempt, as some editors do, of presuming any ownership of a piece.

So now it’s time to look back at the heart and soul he’s left in the magazine. A formidable body of work, man. Thanks, Tim.
— Sam Maddox

Fighting the Good Fight

Tim’s Bully Pulpit column encourages us to fight the good fight. It’s the first place I turn every month. No inspirational cripple stories for Tim — just real people engaged in interesting activities or frustrated with the status quo. No cheap tricks. No exploitation. Just truth and its consequences. Thank you, Tim, for informing the world that life using a wheelchair is challenging, nuanced and fulfilling.
— James Weisman

A Resounding Voice

For the past 17 years, Tim hasn’t just been the editor of NEW MOBILITY, but, through his role, a resounding voice of living with disability in the most genuine sense. Under Tim’s stewardship, NM has dared to tackle not just the feel-good, but the tough stuff, too. What Tim shows is that there’s ultimately no such thing as “disability experience.” Rather, we’re all in the same trenches of finding our way through “human experience.” Tim leaves a legacy of improving the lives of countless individuals with his work, wisdom and heart. I wish him the absolute best in retirement, and extend our deepest gratitude for all that he has given to us, his readers — touching so many lives far beyond any printed page.
— Mark E. Smith

My Old Buddy Tim

Tim and Allen Rucker became friends after working together on magazine articles.

Tim and Allen Rucker became friends after working together on magazine articles.

Tim is the best editor I’ve ever dealt with. A lot of people in his position are anxious chain-smokers, tyrannical chain-smokers, or both. Tim used another time-honored tactic: smarts. I never fought a change in a story that he suggested. If not always right, he wore you down with calm logic. This is a lost art in this day of bullies and screamers and specious provocateurs. Rational, adult compromise — what a concept!

I came to admire and appreciate Tim even more when my wife and I visited him and his wife, Sam, at their home outside of Portland. They live on a beautiful, sylvan truck farm, surrounded by fields of tomatoes, in a slightly modernized version of the clapboard farmhouse that my Great-Uncle Alfred lived in outside of Carney, Oklahoma. If, in that old saw, “The best revenge is living well,” I figured Tim and Sam had pulled off the best revenge possible for becoming paralyzed in your 20s. It may have not been Valhalla — running a farm is crazy hard, frustrating, and rarely profitable — but at least from my tired urban eyes, it could sure as hell pass for it.

Here’s hoping Tim leases his farm land to a young couple deserving of living their dreams, enjoys his grandkids, and writes whatever he damn pleases. He sure gave his heart and soul to this magazine.
— Allen Rucker

His Caring is Genuine

I met Tim in 2003 when he flew to California to speak with me and my family for a NEW MOBILITY story. Tim was so warm and easy to talk to that sharing came easily. He asked all the right questions and got me to divulge details about my life I hadn’t shared publicly before. I was so impressed with his authentic charm, clear intellect, and his ability to not only get my story, but get me.

In 2007 Tim contacted me to write a story of Kristina Ripatti, a police officer and mom about my age who had sustained an SCI. I had never written a profile piece, let alone a cover story, but Tim had faith in me. He guided and supported me through the interview and execution. I was so nervous I had my sister look the piece over before sending him my first draft. Tim was not pleased. But, instead of scolding me, he urged me to trust him. He assured me that he believed in my abilities and that as my editor, he would bring out the best in my writing. And he did. His wisdom and advice are always spot-on, and his caring spirit is genuine. Like countless others, he has not only changed me for the better, he has changed me for good.
— Ellen Stohl

Editor, Farmer, Friend

Writing for a new editor can be intimidating. Fortunately, Tim followed up Barry Corbet’s deft editing with his own deft editing and words of encouragement. Although there were times when we disagreed on the direction of a story — sometimes really disagreed — we would exchange information and find a direction that worked for both of us, ending up with better information for the reader.

I enjoy talking on the phone with Tim, especially in those rare times when I’m not past a deadline. We’ve shared “life and disability hacks”; stories from his hippie days, to the latest news from the Gilmer organic farm (“It’s a farm, not a garden!” he would rather sternly remind me); and highlights of raising our daughters. Perhaps the most powerful thing Tim enabled me to see is that aging with style, with a disability, is possible. When I hit my early 50s, I ran into a mental cloud, becoming a bit too focused on peers that passed too soon and how disability accelerates the aging process. Tim pointed out that although aging with a disability is no picnic, it can be full and long. He led by example, despite having to battle severe health challenges, and provided a list of quite a few people, many of whom NM has profiled, that are thriving in their late 70s and beyond. The key is to keep pushing.

Farmer Tim, I wish you and Sam a long “semi-retirement” overflowing with friends, family and grandkids, and look forward to sharing more stories. And since you have retired from farming, I look forward to hearing about life in the garden!
— Bob Vogel

Mentor, Friend

Doug Davis has illustrated Tim several times over the years. Here Tim goes on a mythical road trip with staffers Douglas Lathrop, Roxanne Furlong and Josie Byzek. Jean Dobbs is gassing up the van.

Doug Davis has illustrated Tim several times over the years. Here Tim goes on a mythical road trip with staffers Douglas Lathrop, Roxanne Furlong and Josie Byzek. Jean Dobbs is gassing up the van.

In 2005, I was asked to join the magazine full-time as associate editor. It just so happened that this coincided with Tim recuperating from quintuple bypass surgery, and a cover story he was working on about injured Iraq veterans was passed on to me. I felt the story was taking a different route than what he had planned. I went with my gut, sent in my piece and waited by the phone for the sweeping accolades that I was sure Tim would bestow.

Within the hour, Tim called and though it was really hard to tell, boy, was he steamed. As this soft-spoken man quietly chewed me out for not getting the story that he assigned, I learned a huge lesson that day that would help me grow as a writer. I found out that I could always count on his support and direction and knew this guy would become a great mentor and good friend.
— Roxanne Furlong

That Silly Little Thing

For many years now the lovely and talented Tim Gilmer has let me do the silly little thing I do for NEW MOBILITY, not only with little interference but with great support and encouragement. And he loves jazz, too! What more could one ask of a human being? Gracias, crippled comrade.
— Mike Ervin

NM Quality Controller

As a freelance writer who has been lucky enough to be paid for sharing my thoughts on a broad variety of subjects related to disability, I know the value of having editors with kindred thoughts and experiences to review my work before it is available for the scrutiny of our readers. NEW MOBILITY and its predecessors Spinal Network and Spinal Network Extra have employed a string of such qualified professionals throughout their existence, and everyone living with paralysis has benefited from their work. To do that job takes intimate knowledge of the covered subject matter and a great idea of what will interest and inform readers. I’m extremely fortunate that during 17 of the 27 years I have been writing for these publications that I have had Tim Gilmer editing my draft submissions. While I was proud of my work, it turned out to be even better once it made it through the editorial process. Tim has encouraged me to cover some interesting subjects, and I received frequent feedback from someone who has endured many of the challenges that my paralysis brings; in Tim’s case, he has often faced even greater challenges. His willingness to share them with readers in an open discussion of causes, potential cures and the frustrations of trying to deal with the medical/industrial complex that passes for healthcare in this country are usually humorous and informative at the same time. While Tim has certainly earned retirement, I hope he will keep contributing to this magazine and to others who seek quality, insightful writing on subjects that interest us all. Thank you, Tim!
— Michael Collins

Our Captain

Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.
— James 3-4

I want to share a staff secret: Even more than his brilliant editing and writing, it’s Tim’s passion for our readers that makes him especially wonderful, and that has moved me the most. Whether it’s encouraging a newly injured young person wondering what the future will hold or calling a reader concerned about a health issue, Tim cares deeply for people living with SCI/D and their families. This manifests in these personal phone calls and emails as well as in his willingness to share his own SCI journey, from the hospital stays to the joy of grandchildren climbing up in his lap.

In his first Bully Pulpit he used the metaphor of himself as a sea captain. “This wheel will fit my hands,” he wrote, and so it has. Tim is retiring, but not going very far. We will call on him for ideas and expertise as long as he lets us, and I have high hopes he’ll keep his newfound taste for blogging. And thanks to Tim’s steady hand at the helm, NEW MOBILITY is in ship-shape, once more ready to set sail for lands both charted and unexplored by a new captain. That is quite a legacy.
— Josie Byzek

The Day I Got Out of Tim’s Way

When I was telling my husband that June would be Tim’s last month as editor, I started to cry. At first I wasn’t sure why because when I described his retirement, it’s the one we all want: He did high-quality, heartfelt work over a long, admirable career — and he’ll continue to be involved with the magazine in new and exciting ways, unburdened by the demands of a full-time job.

Photo by Sam Gilmer

Photo by Sam Gilmer

But still. We won’t speak as often, younger editors will fill the void, and NM will take on a new persona. While possibility hangs on the horizon, wistfulness steals under the radar.

During the early days, Tim and I struggled to find our own rhythm after Barry Corbet retired. We probably broke every Human Resources rule about avoiding religion in the workplace — Tim wanted to talk about his faith in Bully Pulpit and elsewhere; I wanted to quash those conversations. (By then I felt like NM was my baby, and my baby was raised a secular Buddhist!) We hashed it out more than once in awkward phone calls in which I was tempted to play the boss card. There were many reasons I resisted that inclination, but the most important was that Tim needed to be free to authentically inhabit the editorship.

I don’t recall exactly when it transpired, but one day I decided to trust Tim with NEW MOBILITY. He wrote beautifully, he edited passionately, he lived fully — so what if I just let Tim be Tim, faith and all? A wonderful thing happened. He found his NM voice, the one that includes his Christian perspective but also illuminates the quirky nooks and crannies of lived experience. And we are all the better for it.

Tim softened toward my agnosticism, too. It’s hard to convey how all the weird email chains and unexpected conflicts on a tiny staff end up informing the magazine. Perspectives shift. Ideas are tried and trashed. Some days you figure out a better way to understand the world. On really good days, you figure out a better way to share it.

Tim, Josie and I had been collaborating in this way for about five years when Utne Reader — which curated “the best of the alternative press” — honored NM as one of its Top 15 Magazines of the Year. NEW MOBILITY had won awards before, but frankly this one meant more. A respected publication beyond the disability echo chamber had recognized our purpose, our point of view, and our unique place in the media universe (see the award write-up at right).

This award meant so much to us that it cemented our relationship, and we have invested in each other more fully every day since. Now, after 17 and a half years, our improbable baby is all grown up, and it’s time to let go again.

I will miss you, Tim. But I know NM will be fine — it’s a survivor if ever there was one. We made sure of that together, on a wing and a prayer.
— Jean Dobbs