An Icon Is Gone

I think it’s safe to say that every professional plying a trade stands on the shoulders of those who came before. How a given profession is defined and the characteristics that make it worthy are inherited from earlier practitioners.

Columns From: 2/5/2004 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Chris Koepfer

I think it’s safe to say that every professional plying a trade stands on the shoulders of those who came before. How a given profession is defined and the characteristics that make it worthy are inherited from earlier practitioners.

Over the holidays, my profession lost one of those whose shoulders my peers and I stand on. We received news that Andy Ashburn, longtime editor-in-chief of American Machinist magazine, died of complications following surgery. He was 84 years old.

To paraphrase Douglas McArthur, old editors never fade away; they just keep writing. Andy was true to this, remaining active in the metalworking field long after his official retirement in 1987.

He continued to contribute guest editorials to his former magazine and others. He also worked with my publishing company, Gardner Publications, using his extensive overseas contacts to produce the global machine tool financial scoreboard (The Blue Bulletin), which ranks worldwide machine tool builders.

Andy was more than just a very good editor. He was a colleague who, along with his contemporaries, set the height of the bar for several subsequent generations of metalworking trade press editors.

Those of us who have the privilege of following in the wake of Andy and other great metalworking editors of his time, such as Ken Gettleman and Bob Huber, inherit more than the simple responsibility of reporting on the metalworking industry. During their long careers, these mentors demonstrated that passion for manufacturing is key to moving trade magazine content beyond just dry recitation of facts and specs to include analysis of what it all means to our readers.

Gaining the necessary perspective on the manufacturing field requires immersion rather than tangential involvement. Doing the job properly means going where things are happening. An example of this was when Andy reported on Toyota’s “kanban” production control system in 1962. That was easily 10 years before the gas crisis that finally got Detroit’s attention.

I had the privilege of first meeting Andy Ashburn early in my career. His legacy of professionalism and contribution to the field continue to impact the way I try to do my job. In following the example of an icon like Andy, it’s not about direct imitation, but rather about applying his example to contemporary industry.

On behalf of Modern Machine Shop and Gardner Publications, I extend heartfelt condolences to the Ashburn family and to the metalworking family that Andy touched for so long.

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