What I remember is the way she typed. She would have been a fish out of water on a word processor or an IBM Selectric. On them, you tap. You don't snap the shift lever across. You don't pound the space bar. You don't hurry so hard to pour an idea onto paper that the keys get all jammed up at the point of impact -- the I curled behind the J, the M mashed on top of the V.
But that was Laura, possessed by a notion, pushing a deadline. I was 17 and she was 19, and I remember her clearly at her Olympia manual, pounding out an editorial the way a good pianist produces a sonata. She massaged the keys. She wrung the message out of them. When Laura typed, you stopped what you were doing and you walked across the room and you read over her shoulder.
Laura Godofsky Horowitz died last Wednesday of cancer at the age of 40. She is much of the reason I've spent half my life in the newspaper business. Laura was my first editor, my first mentor. Those days in a college newspaper office are long gone -- and now, unbelievably, she is, too.
I've just returned from the memorial service, which makes this a hazardous time to try to explain what Laura was. It's hard to put out of my mind the sight of her two daughters, Ellen and Natalie, neither of them a teen-ager yet, and her husband, Dan, all three sitting in the front row of the sanctuary, all three dazed. It's a scene that wrenches you so thoroughly that you want to take the rest of the day off.
Instead, I found myself speeding downtown on Shirley Highway, composing in my head what Laura was, and what she meant. I like to think that Laura would not only understand why I'm sitting at this keyboard; she'd insist.
The last day of the Cuban missile crisis was the first day I worked for her. A new president named Kennedy had dared the Russians to violate his naval blockade, and the Russians had backed down. It was a big story, even for a college paper. Laura looked around the shabby offices and found a kid who had wandered by in search of a byline or two.
"Do the 'react piece,' will you?" she said.
" What's a 'react piece?' " I asked.
"Call the chairman of the political science department and ask him to tell you what Cuba means."
Every journalist knows this moment. You don't quite know how to phrase what you want to ask, and you're afraid you'll be interrupting someone who's got better things to do than talk to a prying voice on the phone. When the journalist is three months out of high school, and the professor has a national reputation, the nervousness doubles.
But I called, and he talked, and I had my story. Laura was reading the "takes" as they spewed out of my typewriter. As I finished, she said:
"Nice. A little wordy, but that'll come. You act as if you've done it all your life."
They aren't supposed to happen so neatly, these moments when the heavens part and you see for the first time how you want to spend your life. But Laura hooked me right then and there.
She moved to Washington in 1964, explaining that she wanted to be at the center of things. In the years since, she has worked as an editor of books and newsletters, a consumer activist, a public relations executive and an aide to the mayor.
In 1972, she started an editorial services business based in Alexandria that became extremely successful. The last time we spoke, I kidded her about spending more time on her tax problems than on her words. She assured me that no matter how complicated her business got, that would never happen. "I know words," she said. "And I love them a lot more than I could ever love taxes."
The rabbi looked down at Laura's husband and urged him to raise their daughters in a way that would do honor to her memory. He looked at the daughters and told them to remember this woman, who had given them life. Then he looked at 200 of Laura's friends and acquaintances and urged them to push for excellence, for achievement, for the level of commitment that Laura brought to virtually everything in her brief life.
Some of us, of course, have been trying to do that for a long time.