Every organization has people who work behind the scenes out of the limelight, to make sure that everything gets done that needs to be done. They do not get the headlines, but no organization can survive without them. America had such a person for 40 years as our business manager and controller. James J. Santora, a dear friend and dedicated colleague, went to God on Jan. 17. He died as he would have wanted to—at home surrounded by his loving wife, Joan, and his children and grandchildren. Although not unanticipated, his rapid decline at the end was a shock to us all.
Jim had been fighting cancer for over a year. Despite losing a lung and suffering the indignities and discomfort of chemotherapy, Jim continued to commute 50 miles to work whenever he could. He was dedicated to America and refused to quit.
That Jim made that commute for 40 years on the Long Island Railroad is incredible to someone like me, who commutes by stairwell—six stories from room to office. But Jim had two great loves—his family and his work. He made a home for his family in Islip Terrace on Long Island, where his son is now a highly decorated police officer. He was a respected member of the community, consulted by neighbors who trusted his sage advice. He helped build up baseball teams so kids could have a league in which to play. His integrity as an accountant was legendary. The local I.R.S. official had Jim prepare his returns, because he did not want to risk any problems.
But his family was his true joy. His office was filled with pictures of his children and grandchildren. The most recent additions were digital pictures, displayed as screensavers on his computer. Every week he had new stories to share with us about his grandchildren, whom he loved to take to Disney World.
When Jim started at America in the early 1960’s, the magazine was in debt and on the verge of bankruptcy. Thurston N. Davis, S.J., no fool he, who was editor in chief at the time, recognized the talent and dedication of the young accountant who was reviewing our books. He kept after him for two years until he came on board. All of Thurston’s successors depended heavily on Jim’s business sense and financial advice. He will be hard to replace.
Jim was expert in the publishing world’s arcane rules for deferred revenue, where subscription revenue becomes a liability. He published on this topic and was even asked once to explain it to the accountants at Reader’s Digest. I still have a hard time understanding why every subscription we sell becomes a liability on the balance sheet.
Jim was also an expert at negotiating contracts and putting off vendors when we did not have the money to pay the bills. Somehow he kept the magazine afloat through editors who never even had checkbooks, let alone the skill to balance them. Because of his efforts, editors were able to focus on content and leave the business side of the operation in his capable hands. He was always looking out for the magazine. Even as I write this, I can hear him urging, “Don’t forget to ask for money!”
But Jim was not just a money man. He saw all of the people who work at America as part of a family and treated them as such. He always looked out for his people. We loved him for that. At his funeral, the entire business office staff was present along with Jesuits from America House, including all the living editors in chief with whom he served.
Jim, we miss you. America will never be the same. Pray for us.