In 2011, when George Hodgman found himself unemployed, he moved to his hometown in Missouri to care for his mother. In New York, he had been an editor at Vanity Fair magazine and at publishing houses, where he worked with top-flight writers and was invited to parties with rock stars.
After a corporate downsizing eliminated his job, Mr. Hodgman headed back to Paris, Mo., to live in his family home with his aging and ailing mother, Betty. His 2015 memoir about the experience, “Bettyville,” became a bestseller and put Mr. Hodgman in the same literary company as the acclaimed writers he had guided into print.
He died July 20 at his apartment in New York City at age 60. The cause was suicide, said his cousin, Molly Roarty, who declined to elaborate.
Mr. Hodgman became a well-regarded editor in New York, first at the Simon & Schuster publishing firm and later at Vanity Fair, where he worked from 1993 to 1999. “George was as good an editor as I have ever worked with,” the magazine’s former editor, Graydon Carter, told the Daily Beast website.
Later, at the publishing houses of Henry Holt and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Mr. Hodgman worked with dozens of authors, including historian Kevin Boyle, whose 2004 book “Arc of Justice,” about civil rights and a racially charged murder trial in 1920s Detroit, won the National Book Award.
“Arc of Justice” came about when Mr. Hodgman, then at Henry Holt, saw a brief announcement about Boyle’s research and gave him a call.
“I had no idea who he was, he had no idea who I was,” Boyle, a history professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., said in an interview. “He walked me through how to write a proposal for a trade book, which I had never done.”
They reviewed the manuscript chapter by chapter, speaking so often on the phone that Boyle’s children knew Mr. Hodgman by his first name.
“He taught me huge amounts about how to write for the general public,” Boyle said. “He made that book. He was an ideal editor.”
Mr. Hodgman had not published any of his own writing until circumstances led him back to Missouri. He had lost his job at Houghton Mifflin, and his mother had lost her driver’s license after a minor accident. He returned in 2011, thinking he would be there for a few weeks or months. He stayed four years.
Betty Hodgman was a widow in her late 80s, showing signs of dementia, when her son came to look after her. They shared laughter and puzzlement in equal measure, and their reunion did not always go smoothly.
“When the phone rings, she listens to every word, not sure if she can trust me with her independence,” Mr. Hodgman wrote in “Bettyville.” “I don’t blame her. I am an unlikely guardian. A month ago I thought the Medicare doughnut hole was a breakfast special for seniors.”
His mother was relieved of her job playing piano at church after she dropped her music on the floor and cursed out loud in the sanctuary. Mr. Hodgman, a cosmopolitan New Yorker who was gay, had a hard time adjusting to life in a town whose population had shrunk to about 1,200.
With the help of a cleaning woman and another caregiver, he became his mother’s cook, driver, nurse, confidant and occasional nemesis. He grew accustomed to her opening his door and turning on the light, peering in “like a camp counselor on an inspection tour, as if she suspects I might be entertaining someone who has paddled in from across the lake.”
At one point, Betty tells him, “You’re in bed in your clothes again.”
“ ‘I dozed off reading,’ ” he replies, in a half-truth.
“Actually,” Mr. Hodgman writes, “I go to bed in clothes because I am waiting to be called into action, anticipating a fall, or stroke, or shout out. She seems so frail when I tuck her in. I keep the ambulance number, along with the one for the emergency room, on my bedside table.”
Threaded throughout “Bettyville” are Mr. Hodgman’s memories of small-town life, some affectionate, others painful. His grandmother’s house had been turned into a crystal meth lab where someone was murdered. He wrote of his failed attempts to join the high school football team and to enjoy a fishing trip with his father. He described his struggles with drugs and recovery.
But the overwhelming presence in the book is Betty Hodgman — and the warmth, humor and confusion of the evolving relationship between mother and son.
“Her hearing sometimes fails her, but it is often difficult to determine whether she is missing something or simply choosing not to respond,” he writes.
“Some days she is just about fine, barking orders at Earleen, our cleaning lady, sharp enough to play bridge with her longtime partners. Other times, though, she is a lost girl with sad eyes. I am scared I am going to break her. I am new at all this.”
George Arnett Hodgman was born Jan. 30, 1959, in Moberly, Mo. An only child, he grew up in the northeastern Missouri towns of Madison and Paris. His father worked for a family lumber business; his mother had been a secretary in St. Louis before her marriage.
Mr. Hodgman graduated from the University of Missouri in 1981 and received a master’s degree in English literature from Boston College in 1983. He then moved to New York to work in publishing.
In addition to Boyle, other writers he worked with over the years included novelist and memoirist Danielle Trussoni, biographer William J. Mann and journalists Katherine Boo, Maureen Orth, Anthony Shadid and Washington Post television critic Hank Stuever.
Mr. Hodgman’s father died in 1997. His mother was 92 when she died in 2015. He had no immediate survivors.
According to friends and published reports, Mr. Hodgman had been treated for bipolar disorder, including a hospital stay earlier this year. He was said to be at work on a novel, but “Bettyville” was the only book he completed.
In it, he recalled riding to school with his mother at the wheel, the two of them singing along to songs on the radio.
“Betty took the shoe off her foot and almost floored it,” he wrote. “I like fast things. And the highway between Madison and Moberly, Missouri, will always be one of the places where I will see my mother, hair wrapped in rollers under a scarf wearing a pair of sunglasses taking me off into the big wide world.”