THIS IS A SAD AND STRANGE TIME around the offices of Minnesota Monthly. In late June, as we were putting the finishing touches on this issue, one of our staff members, senior editor Carol Ratelle Leach, died unexpectedly at her Edina home. She was 43 years old.
Carol left behind a devoted husband, three great kids, and a large hole in the life of this magazine. Minnesota Monthly is not a huge operation—the edit staff could safely fit inside a decent-sized minivan—and it feels more than a little futile to try to describe how important Carol was to us here. As anyone who read her stories or worked with her can attest, she was an elegant writer, a thoughtful editor, and a generous sounding board for ideas. She was “someone who could comfortably combine an enormous intelligence with a strong sense of compassion,” recalled one writer who had recently worked with Carol.
She was also a hell of a reporter. At the time of her death, Carol had just finished a lengthy profile on Star Tribune gossip columnist Cheryl Johnson, one of the most well-known, if little-understood, women in the Twin Cities. As part of the reporting process for that piece, Carol spent months hanging out with C.J.—in her office at the Star Tribune, at FOX-9 for her morning-show appearances, at events all over town.
As a profile subject, C.J. could be exasperating, complicated, and wildly candid, the sort of character that magazine writers dream about, and Carol eventually managed to get the columnist to talk about many things that C.J. would have just as soon avoided: her family, her personal life, even her failed marriage. One of the reasons C.J. agreed to cooperate with the story is that she had dealt with Carol before and knew her to be—as we all did—smart, curious, and honest. Carol certainly employed all those traits in pursuing the story, and the result is a remarkable article, a piece that captures the complexities of C.J.’s life without making excuses for her sometimes odd and off-putting behavior.
We’re proud to publish the story in this issue of Minnesota Monthly. And yet, as good as the piece is, such stories aren’t really what we’ll miss about Carol. In fact, more than any writing or editing, Carol’s most important contribution to the magazine may have been something that never showed up in our pages, at least not in a way readers would ever see. Quite simply, she made life around here better—with her crazy laugh, her love of books and Diet Coke, her bizarre fascination with figure skating and obscure magazines, and her warmth and maternal impulses. She made the rest of us a little smarter, a little more compassionate, a little more thoughtful.