R.I.P. Roxanne, the greatest copy editor ever


On deadline and in life, Roxanne Morgan was contemplative but incredibly efficient, practical but always compassionate.
  • On deadline and in life, Roxanne Morgan was contemplative but incredibly efficient, practical but always compassionate.

There she sat, on the passenger side of a souped-up Mini Cooper, going 140 mph through the Illinois night. She liked to go fast, and her Steve was obliging. A friendly trucker — adept like Steve at the light-dimming, hand-gesturing language of the highway — was acting as lookout. Steve had open road.

Though cut short, it had been a long trip out West. Maybe Steve didn't care about the danger, or maybe he just didn't feel it. She was at his side, as she had been for 32 years, keeping him on the road and on kilter, as best she could. They hadn't made it to the Pacific, and unthinkable circumstances had them returning to Indiana early, but damned if they weren't going to enjoy this little rocket, their first brand-new car.

Steve eased up, slowed down. They had made it this far from Ely, Nev., and he really had to get her home. He didn't know where home ultimately would be, though. Maybe Indy. Maybe Florida. Maybe somewhere back out West, where they had dreamed of retiring. Like all the other decisions cruelly heaped on those grieving the most, this one would be his. He looked at the urn sitting in the passenger seat, bewildered about where to take it.

Sorry, but this story couldn't avoid the ashes-to-ashes part very long. The numbing reality is that she is gone. And so many folks just can't handle it. Like Steve, they don't know what to do. Roxanne Morgan meant that much to so many people — and they just don't know what to do.

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There she sat, for 31 years, keeping The Indianapolis Star copy desk on kilter and saving the ass of reporter after reporter after reporter, not to mention protecting the suits from libel suits.

She came to The Star without much professional experience; she had served short stints as a copy messenger and copy editor in Florida, and she had done a little writing there. Though quiet and shy, she didn't need long to establish a reputation at The Star. They quickly noticed this unassuming little gal could edit. Yep, back then, in the early '80s, there were still a few old-school guys who called women "girls" and "gals" and "honey." Rox, or Roxanne (people at The Star called her both with equal endearment), didn't care what some old guy called her. She knew all kinds of people in all kinds of places. She just figured people are who they are. Besides, there were stories to edit, headlines to write, and deadlines to meet. No time for P.C.

She always came to work in jeans — don't even think designer — and a plain long T-shirt, most of them with a little pocket. (One time, a long time ago, a co-worker or two allegedly saw her in a dress at a wedding.) Her blondish hair was long and straight, parted in the middle, never, ever styled. She was short, really short, fire-plug stocky, and had a cute pug nose. Her eyes were blue, misty and mesmerizing. God, was she beautiful.

She always came to work — to work. Back when the Pulliam family owned The Star, and in the early days of Gannett Company ownership, when newsrooms were bustling instead of hunkering down, animated journalists were everywhere. Lots of reporters. Lots of editors. Lots of simultaneous conversations. With the shifts of day and night journalists overlapping, Rox would walk stealthily past the chatter to her desk and start editing local, national and international news. And when she edited, she did it better than anyone ever.

Soon, she was a "slot editor," a person who reads everything that goes into the newspaper. Individual "rim editors" send their work to the slot editor. That slot editor is the last line of defense. Soon again, she was assistant copy chief of the entire news desk. And soon again, in the mid-1990s, she was named news copy desk chief. The copy chief — who doubles as a slot editor — gets a lot of crap when there are problems, but little glory when things go smoothly.

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