Bill McKnight, a gentle giant

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John O'Connor, editorial director, McKnight's Long-Term Care News
John O'Connor, editorial director, McKnight's Long-Term Care News
I last talked with Bill McKnight about six years ago. Despite having nothing to gain, he graciously participated in a story about our magazine's 25th anniversary. I struggled afterward to craft an appropriate response to such unexpected generosity. About that time, a simple two-sentence thank you note arrived in the mail. It was from Bill. As usual, it was perfect.

But that was Bill: thoughtful, gentle, energetic, and always memorable. Bill died this month at age 83.

When I joined the firm that bore his name in 1990, Bill had already become a legend. But he hardly resembled an iron-fisted patriarch from central casting. Yes, Bill set high standards and had a work ethic that would shame a Chinese rice farmer. But for a man who had spent three decades in publishing, he was remarkably comfortable and comforting.

In one of my first meetings with him as a newbie employee, he asked if I thought 1990 would finally be the Cubs' championship season. In retrospect, that conversation was ironic on several levels.

And what a character he was. At the first holiday party I attended, Bill showed up in full Scottish regalia. Unfortunately, that's about the only thing I can remember from that celebration.

A more than respectable clarinet player, Bill performed regularly at one of the local restaurants. Once while an industry trade show was taking place in San Francisco, he slipped away to Alcatraz and delivered a memorable rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Speaking of trade shows, Bill was not above working at our booth during these events. He also had the knack of introducing young reporters to people who would become valuable sources.

But in the beginning, few knew he would become a publishing legend. The original plan was more along the lines of following his father into medicine. But shortly after he graduated from Northwestern University, he hired on as a salesman for American Hospital Supply Corp. (which would later become Baxter). Legend has it that while going to client meetings across the stifling Arizona desert, Bill would drive in his underwear in order to keep his suits neat for meetings. Wonder if that led to any interesting speeding-ticket conversations?

Bill later joined Clissold Publishing Company, the publisher of Hospital Management and Hospital Formulary Management magazines. He soon became marketing vice president and then started his own publishing venture in 1969. One year later, McKnight's Medical Communications launched Medical Products Salesman (which would later be shortened to Medical Product Sales). In 1971, Pharmaceutical Representative made its debut. Purchasing Administration (which would later be renamed Healthcare Purchasing News) was born in 1977.

McKnight's Long-Term Care News greeted the world in May of 1981, as Today's Nursing Home. In an inaugural editorial for our publication, Bill laid out an aggressive agenda. He wrote that he intended to produce a magazine that would spot national trends, share innovative ideas, interpret market developments and present a broad perspective. More than three decades later, we're still following that path.

Bill leaves behind Dede Dudley McKnight, his wife of 55 years. If there were ever a more happily married couple, I have not met them. He also leaves behind children Elizabeth (Dalila), Will (Liz), Alec (Maureen) and three grandchildren (Grant, Ian and Skylar).

Bill helped make the world a better place. May the rest of us be so fortunate.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.