George Hodgman, Who Wrote of Caring for His Mother, Dies at 60


George Hodgman, a well-regarded book and magazine editor who had his own moment as a literary cause célèbre in 2015 when he published “Bettyville,” a memoir about caring for his aging mother that also delved into his own story of growing up gay in a small Midwestern town, died on Saturday at his home in Manhattan. He was 60.

His cousin Molly Roark said the cause was thought to be suicide.

As a top editor at Henry Holt & Company and then at Houghton Mifflin, Mr. Hodgman shepherded numerous best-selling and award-winning books into print. But in 2011 he lost his job in a reshuffling at Houghton Mifflin. It turned out to be his own ticket to the best-seller list.

He went to see his widowed mother, Betty, in Paris, Mo., midway between St. Louis and Kansas City, a visit he expected to last two weeks. Two weeks became two months, and then it became a commitment to stay with her as she grappled with dementia.

She was suspicious of him at first.

“She must keep an eye out,” he wrote in the book. “I am a schemer. There are things going on behind her back, plans afoot, she fears. She has no intention of cooperating with any of them.”

The memoir is alternately funny and wrenching. Mr. Hodgman mixed the daily details of caring for his mother with reminiscences about her life and his, including how he dealt with his homosexuality growing up in a household where that was something that could not be openly acknowledged.

“I didn’t discuss my sexuality with her until I was forty,” he wrote. “She didn’t ask. My father hadn’t asked. We were all afraid. None of us knew how not to hurt one another. I made us all feel imperfect. I felt I was wrong. They felt they had caused it.”

He also wrote of the struggles he dealt with after leaving home and moving to New York, including drug addiction.

“The book is instantly engaging, as Hodgman has a wry sense of humor, one he uses to keep others at a distance,” Eloise Kinney wrote in a review in Booklist. “Yet the book is also devastatingly touching.”

Mr. Hodgman first began writing about his mother on Facebook, and he maintained a lively Facebook page related to the book, one he continued after his mother’s death in 2015. Ms. Roark said that even after her death he continued to split his time between Manhattan and Missouri. His posts on the Facebook page suggest that whatever confusion he might have felt growing up in small-town Middle America had given way to appreciation.

“I have been most touched, just completely moved, by the support, encouragement, and love expressed by the people from home,” he wrote in January 2015, with the release of the book imminent. “There’s stuff in this book that may shock them a little, but I do really hope that they get that this piece is filled with love for where I am from and that it is, finally, as much as anything, a book about home, about the importance of having one, about how we can’t let the places that feel like home slip away in a world that doesn’t value them enough.”

George Arnett Hodgman was born on Jan. 30, 1959, in north-central Missouri — Ms. Roark said she wasn’t sure if it was Moberly or Madison. His father, also named George, worked at the family lumber mill. His mother, Elizabeth (Baker) Hodgman, was a secretary before she met “Big George,” as his father was known.

The younger George graduated from Paris R-II High School in 1977. He earned a degree in English and magazine journalism at the University of Missouri in 1981 and went on to earn a master’s degree at Boston College.

He arrived in New York in 1983 and went to work at Simon & Schuster. He then became an editor at Vanity Fair.

“George was always pushing to make the magazine more inclusive,” the writer Ann Louise Bardach said by email, “encouraging, with little success, more features on gays, people of color, and putting African-American stars on the cover.”

In 1999 Mr. Hodgman moved to Tina Brown’s new Talk magazine, but he stayed only through the first issues. He became executive editor at Henry Holt, where his successes included “Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age,” by the historian Kevin Boyle. He had noticed a description of Mr. Boyle’s research in an article on newly awarded Guggenheim fellowships and approached him about a book. Published in 2004, “Arc of Justice” won the National Book Award for nonfiction.

Mr. Hodgman was named a vice president and senior executive editor at Houghton Mifflin in 2007.

In addition to Ms. Roark, he is survived by two other cousins, Mimi McRoberts and Lucinda Baker.

In his book, Mr. Hodgman wrote of why he decided to stay in Paris and care for his mother: He preferred her company to the empty apartment that awaited him back in New York.

“Turns out I am a person who needs people,” he wrote. “I hate that.”

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