A Frenchman once observed that a happy marriage is a long conversation which always seems too short. It applies to so many cherished things in life, including a round of golf. But the heart of Golf Digest is especially heavy this month because it applies to our long/short friendship with Kathy Kelly Stachura, the magazine’s chief fact-checker and the person most responsible for the trust you put in practically everything you’ve read in Golf Digest.
She walked out of Fairfield University and into our lives almost 35 years ago as my first executive assistant and turned in her last assignment—vetting the honorees for The Arnie Awards in this issue—a day before a heart attack at age 56 took her from us and her adoring husband, Mike Stachura, Golf Digest’s Senior Editor of Equipment. He proposed to her over the company’s internal messaging system, in the pre-email days.
First, a word of explanation about the fact-checking process, because the job might sound quaintly old-fashioned yet desperately needed in this modern world. Representing many unheralded staffers who work behind the scenes to create quality content, the fact-checker keeps us honest. After being reported, written and edited, an article was delivered to Kathy, who would underline every fact, to be definitively corroborated with follow-up interviews, phone calls, emails, texts and Internet searches. Once confirmed, a check mark goes over the fact, footnotes are made, and the pages are saved in case there’s ever a complaint.
In this column last month, for example, she scrutinized my reference to Kathryn Crosby wearing Bing’s old tweed suit while following son Nathaniel during his U.S. Amateur victory. “Are you sure it was tweed? In the pictures it looked houndstooth. And the pants didn’t match the jacket, so we shouldn’t call it a suit, right?” she said cheerfully. Always cheerfully.
“She was the most remarkable kind of fixer,” says our longtime contributor Jaime Diaz, “never in any way condescending or sarcastic, which fact-checkers often have a reason to be with writers. Kathy would soften the blow, laughing along with you. Her humor and bonhomie were constant. In the stress of deadlines or the murkiness of a fact, no matter how tedious or annoying to the writer, she never compromised.”
Gently nudging us toward our better selves.
Even our testiest writers knew she was on their side. Decades ago, working one story, she presented her evidence to the bombastic Peter Andrews, who was never at a loss for an argument. Silence followed, and then a few quiet words: “Sadly,” he said, “I was misinformed.”
Senior Editor of Architecture Ron Whitten, once a prosecuting attorney, admits to withering under her cross-examination. “If I wrote that a bunker was eight feet deep or a tree was 40 feet high, she’d want to know how I measured it. When I recently described a guy as ‘burly,’ she asked, ‘That’s your opinion, right?’ She nailed me—I didn’t have a measuring stick for that, either,” Whitten says.
When Executive Editor Mike O’Malley would send her a story that might contain hundreds if not thousands of facts to check—think about our ranking of America’s 200 Greatest Courses—he says “the closest she came to acknowledging the huge challenge ahead was to email back, ‘Goody! One of my favorites.’ ”
I liked to tell her that the editor-in-chief had the prerogative to write in the margin next to an especially sweet anecdote the letters “D.N.F.C.” (Do not fact-check.) But she only laughed at that—no one was above her dogged pursuit of getting it right.
Back in the early days at the office, every editor thought of Kathy as our little sister. She even resembled the adorable Mary Tyler Moore TV character in Ed Asner’s newsroom. It came as no surprise when that theme song was played at Kathy and Mike’s wedding:
Who can turn the world on with her smile?
Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
Even more amazing than Kathy’s ability to juggle dozens of stories every month was her equal skill at handling life. She nursed her husband through 17 cancer surgeries impossibly back to health, while attending every play recital for daughter Annie Kate or track meet for son Jack, running her beloved dogs Finn and Charlie, riding the lawnmower, exercising on Peloton four times a week, shopping all year for Christmas presents, and keeping up always with her friends and family. In his profoundly powerful eulogy, Mike recalled, “ ‘Whatever it takes,’ she would say. ‘The only way forward is through.’ ” Mike went on: “But Kathy’s life wasn’t servile; it was selfless. She gave without thinking, tipped big, called always, and made sure her kids learned that life isn’t about what you do; it’s about what you do for others.
... And her professional life was about cleaning up our mistakes, erasing our flaws, shoring up our weaknesses. Not with slashes and red lines, but with relentless efficiency, gently nudging us toward our better selves.”
You might not see it, but there in the margin of this page, for only Kathy to read, are the bold letters: “D.N.F.C.” Despite what would be her protests of modesty, we know every word is true.