After 43 years, Jack Limpert has locked up his last issue of Washingtonian magazine.
Limpert, the editor who built the venerable monthly into one of the most successful city magazines in the country, stepped down Monday as editor at large, ending one of the longest editing tenures in the business.
Limpert, 78, joined the fledgling magazine in 1969 and served as its editor until 2009, when he handed the top job to Garrett Graff. He has remained with the magazine since, line-editing every story in each issue.
On Monday, Limpert cleared out the remnants of his downtown office, including the Royal typewriter he’s used since his earliest days at the magazine. He’ll continue with the magazine as a writer at large and has plans to document how Washington has changed during his decades as an editor.
Limpert was among a handful of editors who helped shape the city-magazine genre in the late 1960s and ’70s. The formula, still largely in use today, was to mix “service” articles — such as lists of the best hamburgers in town — with in-depth reporting about local institutions and personalities. Under Limpert’s direction, Washingtonian won five National Magazine Awards.
A Limpert innovation — an annual guide to the top doctors in the area — is still the publication’s top-selling issue, followed by its best restaurants and weekend-travel issues.
In an interview Tuesday, Limpert recalled meeting Meg Greenfield, the late editorial-page editor of The Washington Post, at a party in the early 1970s. Upon learning who he was, Limpert recalls, Greenfield told him somewhat dismissively: “I don’t read the Washingtonian for its coverage of politics. I read it to find out where to get good Chinese takeout on a Saturday night.” Readers, said Limpert, “want that information.”
Limpert described himself as “a small-town boy from Wisconsin” who never wanted to leave Washington after he first arrived in 1967. “I remember driving down George Washington Parkway and seeing Georgetown University and the monuments and thinking, ‘This is a magical place,’ ” he recalled. Despite job offers from bigger publications in New York, he stayed.
Graff called Limpert “one of the nation’s great magazine editors,” ranking with New York magazine’s Clay Felker and the New Yorker’s Harold Ross for influence over a category of magazines. “None of the city magazines in the country would look or act the way they do today without” him, Graff said.
Even without daily responsibilities, Limpert is unlikely to slow down, said his daughter, Ann, a Washingtonian editor. “He’s pretty much a workaholic,” she said. “He lives and breathes magazines. I don’t think he’ll have any trouble finding some way to be engaged.”