JANE W. SHARPLES, 1951–2013: We pause to raise a glass to our comrade Jane, The Nation’s production director from 1980 to 2004, who died too young on January 22 after a life of raising hell and doing good.
Jane will be remembered for her mane of flaming red hair, her ever-present cigarette, her free-flowing Anglo-Saxon (“I’m the paid bitch around here”), her heart as big as a whale, her love of booze and her worship of the beach—brought into the office with the desktop she built, a glass-topped beachcomber’s delight filled with sand, shells and sea glass.
A Connecticut Yankee whose forebears stepped off the Mayflower in 1620 (a fact she cared not a fig for), Jane was proud to proclaim zero interest in politics, her descent from a long line of Republicans and, PS, that she’d never voted (for Obama, she made an exception). She knew all the Nation gossip (her office couch was a staff confessional), who needed a kind word or helpful hint, and who—high or low—required a go-fuck-yourself, all of which she administered generously.
No one who was there can forget Jane breezing through the door, caroling her morning greeting, “Are we having fun yet?” or her fierce devotion to a perfect Nation, which kept her here for crazy long days, squinting over proofs and, later, pixels.
Jane was a stickler. Whether laying out a complex double-page spread or implementing a Milton Glaser whole-cloth redesign, or cooking up a six-course meal from The Silver Palate Cookbook, or assembling a smashing designer (or vintage) outfit for a hot date, or sewing curtains for her cottage in Connecticut, resizing a piece of art, kerning a minuscule piece of type, or restoring her vintage robin’s-egg-blue Volvo P1800, it had to be perfect, or off with its head.
It was all part of the day’s (or night’s) work for Jane to stay up to the wee hours, or all night, to get out The Nation. Special issues took a little longer—for our Century issue (to ring in the new millennium), she pulled four all-nighters. She spent an entire weekend in bucketing rain apartment-hunting with our typesetter (in those pre-computer days), then guaranteeing his rent to the skeptical landlord. For fun, she hosted a staff party on her Manhattan rooftop—“The Nation Roof Riot!”—featuring a life-size Pin-the-Tail-on-Victor-Navasky game she’d created.
Her parties—home or office—were legendary. She planned her own Nation farewell bash: a Caribbean-themed extravaganza with palm trees in tubs, an ornate bar, reggae, wafting swathes of blue silk to suggest the sea and a three-inch-deep “beach” of sand on the conference room floor. (A janitors’ strike, alas, halted the sand delivery.) Then there was the Halloween pumpkin-carving contest, necessitated by Jane’s horrified discovery that some in the office had never made a jack-o’-lantern.
A free spirit and an artist in every sense of the word, Jane naïvely thought the rest of the world was as open and guileless as she was, and was often wounded when she found it wasn’t.