I have never known a more eagle-eyed copyeditor than Carol Thiessen, who passed away just as our last issue was going to press. Her attention to the details of spelling, grammar, and style was legendary, and very few mistakes made it into print during her nearly 21-year tenure here. With so little to tease her about, we had to keep returning to the same old mistake—the time the word Christianity was spelled Christiantity on our cover.
Carol was a grammatical and syntactical traditionalist, but she was never without her reasons. Her knowledge of style manuals and specialized dictionaries was prodigious, and in 1983 she created CT's first house style manual. She fought to preserve the distinctions between alternate and alternative and between expect and anticipate. And as CT's czarina of style, she exercised royal prerogative: She even arranged to have CT's managing editor locked out of all the electronic files she had finished polishing. It was dangerous to fiddle with Carol's files.
Carol was firm but not fierce, steadfast but not stodgy. Her church was the love of her life (she served as an elder, music leader, and worship planner). And she was known for her kindness to cats (evidence of which not infrequently showed up on her clothes). Carol had a wonderful sense of humor, too, though it sometimes took people a while to catch on. When I came to work here, she was driving a blue Plymouth Horizon she affectionately called "Beyond." (Hint: the category is popular songs from the 1940s.)
Music, in particular, and the arts, in general, were close to Carol's heartbeat. She fought for arts coverage in our scarce editorial space and networked with Christian artists whose artistic passions were fueled by their faith.
Carol was also a key link to CT's past. Her desk was a symbol of that connection: it was the only piece of furniture still remaining from the magazine's 1977 move to Illinois from Washington, D.C., and it was rumored to have the first editor's bloodstains on it—though we could never check that out, since the papers were piled so deep on Carol's desk that no one ever saw its surface.
In the early 1980s, Christianity Today was searching for a new way to fulfill its mission. As a result, there was considerable staff turnover. When I arrived in 1985, Carol was already then the repository of institutional memory, and with further staff churn over the next 15 years, her role became increasingly crucial in informing talented young journalists of the many interorganizational connections within movement evangelicalism, not to mention warning them of where the bodies were buried.
When I heard a few months ago that Carol had been diagnosed with liver cancer, my thoughts went back to an earlier health scare that we had worried and prayed through with her. That had been a false alarm. Her physicians thought she had breast cancer. But as it turned out, a lymph node had become infected as the result of scratches administered by a stray cat on whom she had taken pity.
During that earlier scare, I saw someone who loved her work, her friends, and her church too much to want to say goodbye. But I also saw someone who was ready to die when it was the Lord's time. The Lord gave Carol a practice run. Both then and throughout the years that followed, she proved herself faithful.
In our next issue: The faith of the world's most powerful woman, Condi Rice; John Stott on pluralism, proselytism, and postmodernism; and Randall Balmer on one of the most treasured of evangelical institutions: Christian camps.
— David Neff Editor
Copyright © 2003 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Christianity Today sister publication Books & Culture also published a tribute to Carol Thiessen.
When Carol Thiessen retired from CT in 1999, then-managing editor Michael G. Maudlin wrote an Inside CT column reflecting on the values she invested into Christianity Today.
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