PSS Winter '13


Irreplaceable Edith

by Chris Swingle

Edith Firoozi Fried ’58

FIRST JOB: Audiovisual Assistant, The Conservation Foundation

CURRENT JOB: Retired Copy Editor at Fortune magazine

Just out of college and well before a long career at Fortune magazine, Edith Firoozi Fried ’58 needed to find a job quickly. Meanwhile, the economy was in a bad slump.

With no dream job in mind, the Geneva native and European history major decided New York City was where she wanted to be. “I was open to anything that seemed interesting,” says Fried. A job placement agency there connected her with four offers.

There was a job in advertising and one at a tile company in Westchester. And Union Theological Seminary needed a secretary. But Fried loves movies, so she said yes to a $75-a-week role as an audiovisual assistant at The Conservation Foundation, which gave her Fridays off in the summer.

She had been in a film projector club in high school – which she says was also an attractive way to get out of class – and had seen and enjoyed conservation films made by her new boss, John Chace Gibbs. The job required some shorthand and typing, which was a challenge because she typed fewer than 20 words a minute. But mainly she obtained, showed and reviewed films.

Fried also did some rudimentary editing of film sent in from field biologists such as George Schaller, who was studying mountain gorillas in Africa. Schaller’s work showed the public that gorillas are intelligent, compassionate and human-like, contrary to the perception of them as brutes, and he became a key figure in wildlife conservation.

In Fried’s three years at the foundation, she learned more about the world. Leading minds, such as Louis Leakey, came by to watch nature and conservation films loaned to the foundation. When Fried met Leakey, the famous anthropologist had already discovered the skull of an ape-like creature that was likely a common ancestor of humans and other primate species.

Fried showed him Schaller’s gorilla film, and Leakey told her how Jane Goodall, the British anthropologist, sat still in the wilds for hours to get close enough to study gorillas. Schaller asked if Fried would be interested in such work. “I thought about it for about two minutes, and I knew I wasn’t,” she says. “I felt itchy just thinking about it.”

Despite the era, Fried says she didn’t experience gender discrimination. It may have come up a bit in her first job, but she says she was cushioned by a great boss. When the two of them co-wrote a book about conservation films, the vice presidents at The Conservation Foundation wouldn’t allow Fried’s name to be listed since she wasn’t known in the field. Her boss withheld his name, and the author was listed only as the foundation’s AV Department.

Fried’s next jobs were in editing and rewriting, first at Columbia University Press. She was the European history and European literature editor for the Columbia Encyclopedia. While at Columbia, she finished work on a master’s in American history.

She was out of the workforce for 15 years while she raised two children and helped run a small alternative school called The Children’s Free School on the Upper West Side. When she returned to work, she spent nearly 30 years as a copy editor with Fortune magazine, even though initially she had no interest in business.

“It turned out to be fascinating,” she says. “It runs our lives, so you might as well know about it.” She says copy editing is like a fun puzzle of making sure the sentences say what the writer intended. “It’s also satisfying because you get to finish things and move on.”

At the magazine, part of Time Inc., she was active with the Newspaper Guild, advocating for workers’ rights in her softspoken, polite way. Fried retired as deputy copy chief in 2009 during a time of cutbacks. “In retiring, I thought I could save at least one job, maybe two,” says Fried, who’s now 76. She still copy edits parts of the magazine’s annual Fortune 500 issues as a freelancer.

Fried also continues as the union’s grievance chairperson as a consultant, providing an understanding of decades of past grievances and arbitrations. In the words of the Guild’s newsletter upon her 2009 retirement, “She is quite literally irreplaceable.”


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.