Of Many Things

Every organization has people who work behind the scenes out of the limelight, to make sure that everything gets done that needs to be done. They do not get the headlines, but no organization can survive without them. America had such a person for 40 years as our business manager and controller. James J. Santora, a dear friend and dedicated colleague, went to God on Jan. 17. He died as he would have wanted to—at home surrounded by his loving wife, Joan, and his children and grandchildren. Although not unanticipated, his rapid decline at the end was a shock to us all.

Jim had been fighting cancer for over a year. Despite losing a lung and suffering the indignities and discomfort of chemotherapy, Jim continued to commute 50 miles to work whenever he could. He was dedicated to America and refused to quit.

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That Jim made that commute for 40 years on the Long Island Railroad is incredible to someone like me, who commutes by stairwell—six stories from room to office. But Jim had two great loves—his family and his work. He made a home for his family in Islip Terrace on Long Island, where his son is now a highly decorated police officer. He was a respected member of the community, consulted by neighbors who trusted his sage advice. He helped build up baseball teams so kids could have a league in which to play. His integrity as an accountant was legendary. The local I.R.S. official had Jim prepare his returns, because he did not want to risk any problems.

But his family was his true joy. His office was filled with pictures of his children and grandchildren. The most recent additions were digital pictures, displayed as screensavers on his computer. Every week he had new stories to share with us about his grandchildren, whom he loved to take to Disney World.

When Jim started at America in the early 1960’s, the magazine was in debt and on the verge of bankruptcy. Thurston N. Davis, S.J., no fool he, who was editor in chief at the time, recognized the talent and dedication of the young accountant who was reviewing our books. He kept after him for two years until he came on board. All of Thurston’s successors depended heavily on Jim’s business sense and financial advice. He will be hard to replace.

Jim was expert in the publishing world’s arcane rules for deferred revenue, where subscription revenue becomes a liability. He published on this topic and was even asked once to explain it to the accountants at Reader’s Digest. I still have a hard time understanding why every subscription we sell becomes a liability on the balance sheet.

Jim was also an expert at negotiating contracts and putting off vendors when we did not have the money to pay the bills. Somehow he kept the magazine afloat through editors who never even had checkbooks, let alone the skill to balance them. Because of his efforts, editors were able to focus on content and leave the business side of the operation in his capable hands. He was always looking out for the magazine. Even as I write this, I can hear him urging, “Don’t forget to ask for money!”

But Jim was not just a money man. He saw all of the people who work at America as part of a family and treated them as such. He always looked out for his people. We loved him for that. At his funeral, the entire business office staff was present along with Jesuits from America House, including all the living editors in chief with whom he served.

Jim, we miss you. America will never be the same. Pray for us.

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11 years 8 months ago
Of Many Things (2/23) honoring the life and the work of Jim Santora was one of the nicest tributes I have ever read. I hope and pray that you said all these same things to him not only on his deathbed but also 10 and 20 and 30 years ago during the middle of his tenure at America.

By way of background: I, like Jim, am a C.P.A., and like many others I have heard for years that I must remember my Christian values and live them in my professional life. I was lucky. During my years at LeMoyne College I took courses in corporate responsibility, religion and philosophy, so I actually had an idea what it meant to be true to my Christian values while running a business and trying to make money. You cannot believe how many businessmen there are out there, good people, who just don’t understand that Christian values and acceptable business conduct can be reconciled and demonstrated.

I am one of the leaders of a youth group at our church, 8th, 9th and 10th graders. I have been talking to the kids for two years about leading their lives with Christian values, being idealistic, trying to do something great. I knew I was not getting through to them. I handed out your article last Sunday night, and we all read it as a group. The lights went on! They finally understood what I have been talking to them about. Jim may not have been a saint; he wasn’t even a Jesuit. He was not the president of the United States, nor was he C.E.O. of I.B.M. Jim was a working guy, a father and a husband, and he touched everyone’s lives and made the world a better place as a result of his work.

I loved your close—you asked Jim to pray for us. Thanks from my kids. I am hopeful that because of your article at least one of them will grow up to be another Jim Santora.

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