Abbott "Kit" Combes, 64, Magazine Editor, Dies Friday December 26, 2008

Abbott Combes, an editor at The New York Times Magazine who helped create its “About Men” column, died on Friday in Mount Kisco, N.Y. He was 64 and lived in Manhattan. The cause was lung cancer, said his companion, Marion McKeone.

Mr. Combes, whose full name was Abbott Carson Combes IV and who was known as Kit, spent 27 years as a copy editor at the magazine. There, he worked with the fashion editor Carrie Donovan to bring a brighter, brisker tone to the fashion pages.

As the first editor of “About Men,” which made its debut as a weekly column in 1983 and ran until 1996, he signed up many of the writers who made the column one of the magazine’s most popular features. He also wrote sprightly articles about shaving his beard and the beauty of the bow tie. He wore one, with walking shorts, a jacket and sockless loafers, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Mr. Combes grew up in Pittsfield, Mass., and graduated from Dartmouth in 1966. Before working at The Times, he was a reporter and editor at The Patriot-Ledger in Quincy, Mass., and at The Washington Star.

He was married twice, to Alice Schwab and Constance W. Wardrop. Besides Ms. McKeone, he is survived by his father, Abbott Carson Combes 3rd of Pittsfield, Mass.; a brother, Richard, of Spartanburg, S.C.; a sister, Sally Combes Leahey of Portland, Me.; three daughters, Andrea W. Combes of East Greenwich, R. I., and deRaismes Combes and Ada Barker Combes, both of Bedford Hills, N.Y.; and three grandchildren.

Full story:

NYTimes Guestbook for Kit:

Dedication video to Kit (you must have a video player that handles .flv video types

(See also Joan's note on this: Kit Combes)

A memorial service will be held for Abbott Combes on Tuesday, Jan. 6, at 11 a.m. at St. Matthews church in Bedford. A reception will follow. The family requests that donations be made to Mr. Combes favorite charity, the Exuma Foundation, at 5885 Landerbrook Drive, Suite 300, Cleveland, Ohio 44124. The agency funds disaster relief and educational programs for island teenagers.

Photo: Marion McKeone
Attribution: NY 

Kit Combes, 'the man in the shorts' dies at 64

Abbott Carson Combes IV, better known as “Kit,” an esteemed editor at the New York Times, died at Northern Westchester Hospital Center on Friday, Dec. 26. Mr. Combes was a longtime resident first of Bedford, and then Katonah. He died of lung cancer.

Leslie Scott, a former Concorde pilot and a friend of Mr. Combes, said the two had met through tennis but gradually realized they had a shared interest in cribbage, which they played faithfully every week. “He was a very good player, much better than me,” Mr. Scott said. “He loved winning, especially a very close and hard fought game.”

Mr. Combes fought his lung cancer hard and with dignity. His plans were to keep on going. As late as a week ago, he happily anticipated being with his friend Marian McKeone on Exuma on New Year's Eve.

Mr. Combes was an “old school” gentleman who favored bow ties, jackets with lapels, and natty Bermuda shorts, which he wore from Memorial Day through 'til snowfall. He referred to himself as “the bee's knees” in a feature he wrote about himself for the New York Times fashion supplement, describing his habit of wearing shorts with dressy loafers (but no socks) to the office. When Perks coffee and tea bar opened, Mr. Combes adopted the place as his hangout, in fine weather sitting outside, holding court among his friends, smoking unfiltered Camels and sunning himself as though at the seashore.

Mr. Combes loved the beach. He was passionate about his family retreat in Exuma, located among a string of 365 islands and cays about 35 miles below Nassau. “The Exumas are like beads off a broken necklace,” he wrote in a story for the travel section of the Times. “Just when you think you've collected them all, you step on another one. I've been picking them up on and off for almost 20 years, and am still looking.” His ashes will be scattered there.

Charlton “Rink” Reynders, a family friend for 25 years, played tennis with Mr. Combes when they were members of the Chestnut Ridge Racquet Club. “He was a very good player,” Mr. Reynders said. “Very avid.”

Mr. Reynders said they took the same train to the city and that walking down the streets of Manhattan with Mr. Combes in his Bermuda shorts was an experience. He recalled a problem caused by Mr. Combes sartorial choices. “They turned us away at the Century Association, and then we found out the Harvard Club and the Princeton Club also have a 'no shorts' rule,” he said. They finally had lunch at the Algonquin.

Mr. Combes was born on Nov. 12, 1944 in Sheffield, Conn. He was an alumnus of the Berkshire School in Sheffield, and was graduated from Dartmouth College in 1966. He was the youngest Eagle scout in Berkshire County. The University of Chicago offered him a fellowship to study journalism.

Mr. Combes first job in the newspaper business was at the Patriot Ledger in Quincy, MA. He next was at the Washington Post where he was on the Metro desk as the Watergate story was breaking. He was a portfolio editor at the Washington Star before moving on to the New York Times in 1981. At The Times, Mr. Combes worked as an editor and writer for the Sunday magazine until his death.

In 1966 he wed Alice Schwab, with whom he had a daughter, Andrea. The couple divorced, and in 1975 he married Constance Williams Wardrop, whom he met in Washington, D.C. at a pub popular with journalists and political campaigners called Whitby's. The couple had two children, DeRaismes and Ada B. The family moved to Bedford in 1982 and joined St. Matthew's Episcopal Church where Ms. Combes became a member of the Random Choristers. April 2009 marks the 25th anniversary of the church's annual Easter Egg Hunt, which was initiated by Kit and Connie.

The couple separated, but did not divorce. In 2005, Mr. Combes met Marion McKeone, a lawyer and prominent Irish journalist working in New York City. They fell in love and for several years maintained a romantic transcontinental relationship, dividing what time they had together in Manhattan, Dublin, and the island of Exuma in the Bahamas where Mr. Combes' family has a residence.

“He was an intensely private, stoic, shy, opinionated, generous man,” Mr. Scott said. “He was an eccentric and dapper dresser, a wearer of shorts on all occasions and in all weathers. He was a mentor to struggling amateur writers including myself, and a good listener. He was a lover, head over heels like a schoolboy of Marion and what a breath of fresh air she was to him, opening his eyes wider still. He was very proud of his heritage, his daughters, and their accomplishments. I'm miss him enormously.”
In addition to his three daughters, Mr. Combes is survived by his sister Sally Leahey of Portland, Maine, his brother Richard Combes of Spartenberg, South Carolina, and his father, Abbott Carson Combes III of Pittsfield, Massachusetts and Exuma. He is predeceased by his mother, Mary Hamlin Combes. Mr. Combes is also survived by three grandchildren, Mary August, Axel, and Berit Olsson, and two nephews, Ellis Combes and Tom Leahey.

A memorial service will be held for Abbott Combes on Tuesday, Jan. 6, at 11 a.m. at St. Matthews church in Bedford. A reception will follow. The family requests that donations be made to Mr. Combes favorite charity, the Exuma Foundation, at 5885 Landerbrook Drive, Suite 300, Cleveland, Ohio 44124. The agency funds disaster relief and educational programs for island teenagers.

Atrribution: The Bedford Hills Record Review

here's the other piece of the package
this is the editorial R.J. Marx wrote about Kit that appeared in today's Record Review newspaper (Bedford, N.Y.)

The bee’s knees

“To make a long story short, I’m the bee’s knees. Well, not really. But I am the 50-something guy you may have seen in summertime Manhattan going about his business clad in coat and tie, dressy loafers (no socks) and what used to be called Bermuda shorts. I didn’t set out to become an ensign of men’s style, but one I seem to have become, recognized uptown and down by my . . . knees. From Park Avenue to Broadway, Columbus Circle to Wall Street, customarily blase New Yorkers see me coming and step aside, not quite sure whether to shun me as a trampler of the proprieties or salute me as a breeze of sensibility.”’

So wrote Abbott Carson Combes IV, better known as “Kit,” who died on Dec. 26. Many in town knew him from spotting him at his perch at Perks in Katonah, playing cribbage with friend Leslie Scott every Monday afternoon, his day off. Or they knew him from church, where he was a co-creator of the annual St. Matthew’s Easter egg hunt. Commuters certainly knew him by his distinctive shorts and fashion flair, and softballers knew him from his competitiveness in a local weekend game. A newpaperman forever, he knew weeklies, having broken in with the Berkshire Eagle. He was a staff writer with Woodward and Bernstein at the Washington Post and, co-bylined when they broke the biggest story of the 20th century, the Watergate Hotel break-in in 1972. Later in the decade, he worked at the Washington Star with incredible talent like Maureen Dowd, Mary McGrory, Howard Kurtz and many others, and he was bitterly disappointed when The Star closed shop. At The Times, he worked with the best in the business.

We knew him as both friend and as newspaper professional, and his philosophy and advice permeated much of this newspaper. He was an avid reader, especially, of the police blotter, of which he would weekly present us with his red-pencilled comments. He would rail against redundancies like, “Officer mediates the dispute and the matter is settled,” police-speak like “car versus deer accident,” “the smell of alcohol emanated from the vehicle” and urged the elimination of the sentence, “No further police action taken.” He hated the phrase “upon arrival,” because, he said, it was a given that they had arrived.

Ironically, his most passionate literary dictum concerned the use of the word “passed” when you meant “died.” Once we made the (fatal) error of running a front page obituary with the headline: “(So and so) passes at age 78.” He pulled us over to a side table at the café and said with visible disgust, “That’s the first thing you should learn — a person never ‘passes.’ They die. You should say that they are dead.”
Well, Kit Combes died last week, and we mourn the loss of a friend and a brilliant newspaperman.

“Now that I’ve been wearing shorts long enough to be cranky about those who don’t and won’t, and long enough to have been evicted from the Yale Club, consider this a call to knees, an invitation to join me in casting aside the legs of convention.”
Kit, we accept your invitation.

Atrribution: The Bedford Hills Record Review

 Reply by Marion McKeone on February 6, 2009 - Hello, I didn't work at the Star. I was Kit's fiancee. We had planned to marry in January this year. I have been contacted by several of his old Washington Star friends and colleagues, who have asked me if I could post a copy of the eulogy I delivered at Kit's Memorial Service on this site so that other Washington Star colleagues could share it. My thanks and deepest gratitude to everyone who attended his service, who contacted me afterwards and who sent me such lovely letters of condolence - Marion McKeone.

Kit and I and the love we shared was a chance in a million connection. While Kit was married with a family and commuting from Bedford Hills to Manhattan, I was a student in London and Dublin, whose main occupations were punk rock and piercing my nose with safety pins.

We met four years ago through Julie White, a mutual friend who is very dear to us both. At the time I was newly single and determined to remain so.

So when Kit phoned and e-mailed and sent flowers I told him he was awfully nice but I really didn’t want a boyfriend at the moment.

But he persisted in that gentle but determined way of his – he wooed me in with poems and flowers, with wit and charm. And it proved so very easy to fall in love with Kit.

At the time he was living in Katonah, in the most impeccably organised apartment I had ever seen. His was a solitary life in many ways, but he had a wonderful group of friends, the Perks gang, who remained wonderful friends, particularly in the last year of his life.

Three years ago, Kit came to live with me in Manhattan, on the Upper West Side. We had a wonderful time – dancing open air at the midsummer night swings at the Lincoln Center, picnics in the park and sunsets on the Hudson River. The Met, the movies, the museums, the insanely romantic dinners in our favorite restaurants.

When we started living together he brought a sense of order as well as infinite amount of love and mischief. By sleight of hand socks that hadn’t seen each other in years were reunited in pairs – chaotic piles of magazines and news clippings suddenly found themselves in chronological order; – I used to joke that the elves came in at night.

We both worked for Sunday papers but we had a very different approach to work, which I think secretly delighted us both. When Kit would arrive home on Friday night with his week completed in the most orderly and precise fashion, I wouldn’t have even started writing the weekly 1500 word column that was due in by midnight.

He would shake his head in disbelief and smile as I swore every week that this would be the last time I would leave it until the last minute -- and we both agreed it was a very good thing for both of us that Kit was not my editor.

Kit was fiercely loyal to the New York Times and very proud he worked for it. And like so many things, it became a source of gentle teasing between us.

Every morning while I was still in bed he would pop out for coffee, pastries and the newspapers. I would always grab the New York Post and read it, loudly exclaiming at the brilliance of its reporting. Then I’d ask Kit if there was anything of interest in 'that other tabloid'.

Invariably he’d open his mouth to defend the Old Gray Lady’s honur and end up just smiling and shaking his head in mock sadness at my irreverence.

During our time together Kit wrote me more than five hundred poems. Some are hilarious little limericks; some are witty observations or impulsive thoughts that he harnessed with the most precise and wry language. Some are beautiful love poems that I will treasure forever.

Poetry was Kit’s essence. He loved it and often read to me aloud – ee cummings was a particular favourite -- and he read so beautifully.

He had the soul of a poet – beneath the impeccably buttoned down exterior there was a restless dreamer , an incurable romantic who brimmed with hopes and ambitions and curiosity.

We took many wonderful trips together; Washington DC, Santa Fe, Paris to visit deRaismes.

The trips I planned tended to be impulsive and last minute; the trips that Kit organized to his family retreat in Exuma were meticulously planned. They were all wonderfully romantic. Kit loved Exuma and I came to love it too; We celebrated our Birthdays and rang in three New Years Eves there. We had planned to ring in a fourth there last Wednesday.

Two years ago for his birthday Kit came to Ireland. At the time I was at a writer’s retreat in Monaghan -- one of the wildest parts of Ireland – and I’m not just talking weather or scenery.

It was November in the middle of nowhere in an enormous old house surrounded by a thousand acres of lake, woodland and mountains.

And Kit loved it – the lashing rain, the fierce storms and the nightly gatherings of an assortment of writers, poets and musicians around an enormous dinner table.

Every night after dinner there were impromptu performances of poetry and song, punctuated by some very lively exchanges over many bottles of wine. They often ended with a dawn swim in a freezing cold lake.

Kit, who didn’t drink any alcohol at all at that time, just drank in the energy.

He was exhilarated by the anarchy of spirit - he was astounded that Anne Enright, one of latest of the late night partiers, subsequently won the 2007 Booker Prize for the novel she managed to write there in between hikes during the day and ferocious bouts of revelry at night.

One misty afternoon when you couldn’t see a foot in front of you, I took Kit to a fairy fort deep in the woods. He was enchanted by it.

He often told me his time in Ireland was the most magical time of his life and I think in some way, some part of his soul connected with something there that was both peaceful and restless, that was captured in the literature and poetry and music, which he came to love.

From Annaghmekerrig we went to stay with friends whose family has owned a castle in Ireland for many centuries.

Again there were late nights and dinner parties that could at best be described as very lively, with raucous tales of ghosts and dark deeds and more recent mischief.

Kit loved it all – the history and the here and now and the eccentricity of the family patriarch, Sir Jack Leslie, who every night at midnight, would don a black beret with a crimson feather and announce he was off to the local disco. Sir Jack is 94.

From the wilds of Monaghan we went to the wilds of Dublin – specifically my house there which was home to family and friends that included Shane MacGowan, a songwriter and somewhat notorious lead singer with a band called the Pogues.

Shane, like Kit, is a gifted poet and they got on like a house on fire - which shortly afterwards was precisely what happened but that’s another story.

One night a long, late dinner was followed by an epic game of trivial pursuit. When Shane eventually beat Kit, I’m not sure who was more amazed. I remember Shane saying: “But you work for the New York Times. “You’re supposed to know EVERYTHING.”

But Kit was never one to boast the breadth or depth of his knowledge. We all knew what a fine mind he had; he was a whiz at crosswords; I used to love the little smile that would play across his face when a particularly knotty puzzle was unraveled and put in order.

Much of what was so wonderful about Kit was deep beneath a surface that could be at times, to use his own word, ornery.

And when Kit became ill, his grace and courage became evident to everyone. A lifelong smoker, he quit and never spoke of it again.

He never complained.

He took everything the disease threw at him, including various treatments, with a stoicism that was beyond description.
His doctors and nurses were astounded, then awed by his resilience and his unfailing courtesy and good humor.

Every morning, he went to work, and every morning before he went to work he performed the same little ritual of inviting my opinion on whether socks matched suspenders matched bow tie matched shirt matched handkerchief.

It was a charade and we both knew it; no one had Kit’s eye for color and design, or his sense of style.

Though we both knew how tough the fight was, neither of us thought for a moment he would lose. There were hard times but we had many, many more wonderful times during his last fifteen months.

Kit never contemplated dying or defeat. He never spent a day in bed. Aside from appointments for treatments, took a day off work.

The day before he went in for a procedure that we believed would extend his life by several years, we picked out our wedding rings. Two days later he was ready to leave the hospital, having been told the treatment was a complete success, when he suffered a heart attack. Right until the end, he believed that he was winning the fight and he went down fighting.

And when his doctor and I had to tell him he was dying, his response was so typically Kit.

He uttered a mild expletive and then turned to me and said. “You can quote me on that before adding. “Actually you can’t, because we don’t print words like that in the Times.”

Before I conclude with a poem by Seamus Heaney, I’d like to thank Kit for introducing me to his family; to his father, Abbott, who aside from Kit, is as gracious and gentle a man as I’ve ever met.

To his family Sally and Mike and Richard and Holly. I already have seven sisters but I feel that with Connie and Ada B and deRaimses and Andrea, I now have several more.

I’d like to thank Connie for organizing today’s service.

And I’d like to thank Kit’s New York Times family, which threw him a wonderful surprise party just a few weeks ago. We walked up Broadway afterwards and Kit was just elated – like a kid returning from a party with a balloon. I was just grateful that I hadn’t given the game away in advance.

During the past year, Kits Perks café crowd really rallied around. I’d really like to on Kits behalf, thank all of you, especially Leslie Scott and Tom Casper who never failed to keep his spirits high with games of cribbage and good cheer.

There were many other wonderful friends, whom Kit valued very dearly. I also want to thank Lisa Berg who could not have been a better friend to Kit or to me. And Kathryn Bonn. And my little sister Therese, my best friend whom Kit also adored. They shared a sweet tooth and she sent Kit obscene amounts of Irish handmade chocolates.

Kit and I had everything except enough time. This poem is entitled, Postscript.

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of a flock of swans
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater
Useless to think you'll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

Marion,  This is beautiful. Thanks for letting us Star folk share your remembrances of Kit and merge them with our own.
Take care,
Joan Anderson

Hi, Marion,  I worked closely with Kit at the Star, and we remained friends throughout the later years; my wife Kay and I paid him many visits over the years. The last time I saw him, early last year, he told me about you and how happy the two of you were together. (He also told me how happy he had been in Ireland, knowing that Kay and I have been there numerous times over the last 30+ years and plan to move to the Dingle Peninsula for a year this September.) I was distressed to hear of his death, but pleased to have had the chance to attend the memorial service on our way back from Ireland and Boston. I'm sorry that I didn't get a chance to meet you that day, and hope you know how much all of his Star colleagues treasured Kit. Thanks for providing the photos and the text of the eulogy. Both are lovely.

Boris Weintraub

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