All of us, if we are fortunate, meet one or two angelic people in our entire lives whose serenity and calm circumspection not only inspire reverence but gently usher us toward a lifelong journey in search of our best selves. Wick Allison was not one of those people.
No, if there was a journey to be undertaken, Wick got it started with a kick in the ass and head-back cackle laugh that until recently echoed through the office of D Magazine. He was a mercurial genius. He was a bully. He was loud. He knew the answer before you did. He made things happen through a force of will that generated its own gravity and drew people to him. He could make you feel great about yourself or sick to your stomach, sometimes on the same day. He created things — publications, careers, political movements — with a fearless abandon that drove those in his orbit dizzy. Wick was something to behold.
By the way, he disliked the word “ass.” Only in special cases would he allow the word to be printed in his magazine. Perhaps if a priest had uttered the word “ass” in a quote that couldn’t be recast. Same with the word “butt.” Wick didn’t like the words “butt” or “ass.”
As for that magazine, if you’re unaware, here is the quick history of one of the most recognizable brands in the city of Dallas and the man who created it: a fifth-generation Texan, Wick (full name Lodowick Brodie Cobb Allison) was born in Dallas and was a Plan II major at UT Austin. He worked in the White House and served in the U.S. Army. He dropped out of SMU’s Cox School of Business after having drafted his business plan for D Magazine, which he co-founded with Jim Atkinson in 1974, aided and abetted by Ray Hunt. He sold the magazine, and there ensued a brief ’80s interlude during which he and his wife, Christine, lived in New York. Wick founded a magazine there called Art & Antiques. He became the publisher of National Review. Then he returned to Dallas and reclaimed his child.
The (possibly apocryphal) story goes this way: Wick and Christine were attending a dinner party with some other New York media moguls who were talking about their dream plans. One after the other said they would love to return to their hometowns and buy the small newspapers there and help make those cities better places to live. Wick and Christine realized that they had already owned that dream, and by 1995, D Magazine was theirs once again.
For those of us who have worked for Wick over the last 25 years, it has been an adventure — as it must have been for those who preceded us in the magazine’s earlier iteration (perhaps more so). It is an accepted maxim in publishing: fast, cheap, good; you can pick two. Wick never accepted that maxim. What he demanded was always too much, and that demand brought out the best in those who could keep up. Sometimes that even included people who served him lunch.
Wick had a standing reservation at Stephan Pyles, a restaurant across Ross Avenue from the magazine’s downtown office. The idea was that Wick’s table — and it was a specific table — could be given to another diner if Wick hadn’t pulled up a chair by noon. He’d had this arrangement at Al Biernat’s when the office sat across the street from that restaurant, and the deal moved a few blocks, to Flora Street Cafe, after Pyles shuttered. To Wick, this seemed normal.
One day at Pyles, Wick was having lunch with two D Magazine staffers and an eminent member of the city’s leadership. Wick found himself describing a pressing urban issue. It involved geography. He summoned his waiter.
“I need a map of downtown Dallas,” he told the waiter. “Thank you.”
The waiter looked at Wick like so many of his employees have over the years. The staffers at the table could read the thoughts on the waiter’s face. Are you kidding me? I’m a waiter, not Google. That’s not my job. And are you kidding me?
In five minutes, though, Wick had in his hands a printed map of downtown Dallas.
Over the last decade of his career, Wick spent more time with maps than he did manuscripts. Having co-founded the Coalition for a New Dallas, he focused on bringing the city into the 21st century in terms of urban planning and transportation. He seemed to realize the limited capacity of writers and editors to effect change within lumbering bureaucracies, and a different cohort of visitors began to occupy his office couch. They dressed better. Some had votes. Others had money.
They came to see and consult with Wick because he possessed something quite magical. He had power. He could make things happen.
On Wick’s office wall hang photographs of him with Pope John Paul II and Tom Selleck (!). On his bookshelf sit multiple paperback copies of Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities. To the politicians and developers who came to see him, he would hand them out like candy. The Jacobs’ books, not the photographs. He worked every day to make Dallas an even better place to live. Right to the end.
Wick was diagnosed with bladder cancer about a decade ago, though most of his employees didn’t know about it until more recently. As the complications multiplied and his hair and hearing left him, he kept putting in the work. Yes, he flagged, but he never complained. Not that we heard anyway. Wick fought dire illness with grace. Truth told, he softened. In his last years, he showed a tenderness toward his employees that eluded him in his youth.
Tuesday, September 1, 2020, the D family lost our founder and father figure. He died in Upstate New York, at a fishing camp he retreated to every summer, surrounded by his girls. His wife Christine was with him, as were his four daughters, Gillea, Maisie, Chrissie, and Loddie.
Every fall the D Magazine staff would dread Wick’s return from New York. Fly fishing, rather than distract him from the magazine, only filled him with bigger and more impossible ideas that needed execution, preferably by yesterday. This year we get a break. With a deep sigh and tears, we will take it.
There are no funeral plans at present in Dallas. The family asks those so inclined to make a donation in Wick’s name to the St. Vincent de Paul Society at Holy Trinity Church. Please specify Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Dallas, where Wick was an active member. Have you ever attended an Irish wake? Seeing as how we can’t gather in person to tell stories about Wick, that’s how we’re treating the comments section. Grab a glass, step up, and let’s hear your best tale.