Over the transom today -- to borrow a phrase from the aforementioned old friend -- came some sad news. Kenneth M. Reese, who wrote C&EN's Newscripts column for 36 years, passed away on March 3 at the age of 85.
Ken had a long history with C&EN, first joining the Chicago office in 1954. He eventually found his way to ACS headquarters in Washington, D.C. in 1962, when he assumed the role of the magazine's managing editor. In 1967, Ken retired from the weekly editor's grind to take the best job at C&EN -- Newscripts Editor.
Although his wasn't the first byline to accompany the Newscripts column, it's fair to say that Ken took C&EN's odd little back page and made it into one of the magazine's most read. Even five years after Reese's retirement, readers still tell us that Newscripts is the first page they flip to -- the highest compliment one could pay columnist. The loyal following undoubtedly comes from Ken's wry humor, easy rapport with readers, and genius at picking subject matter.
As one of the gang of writers who has helped put the column together since Ken's retirement in 2004, I'd personally like to thank him for setting Newscripts' editorial policy. "The editorial policy, if any," he wrote on the occasion of the column's 50th anniversary in 1993, "favors the chemical over the nonchemical, the scientific over the nonscientific, the grotesque over the normal." From this Ken managed to assemble a brilliant body of work, documenting everything from soapmaking inmates to spontaneous human combustion to Komodo dragon acupuncture.
Personally, I'm still in awe of the breadth items he cobbled together for his recurring feature from the Department of Obscure Information: About 1 g of ozone will neutralize the odor of a liter of hog manure slurry; Japan saw the arrival of flush toilets in the late 1980s; red and yellow onions, but not white ones, contain quercetin. I can only assume that Ken gathered such information without the aid of the Internet, since he always submitted his columns as neatly typed pages (presumably tapped out on the typewriter in his iconic picture) which were then reentered into an electronic file by a copyeditor.
Have you got a favorite Newscripts column? A memory of Ken you'd like to share? Please put it in the comments. I'm sure Ken would want us to remember him with a good laugh.