There have been few constants in either chemical manufacturing or publishing over the past five decades. One was Nick Chopey, who died in late February at age 74 after more than 45 years at Chemical Engineering.
Nick was a chemical engineer by training. After getting his B.S. Ch.E. from the University of Virginia, he joined ESSO Standard Oil Company, where he worked in process engineering and technical service for various refineries. His stint at the company was interrupted for 1½ years while he served as an Intelligence Officer for the U.S. Air Force. He joined Chemical Engineering in 1960 and worked there continuously until his death.
I met Nick in the late 1960s in what, in retrospect, probably was the golden age for the U.S. chemical industry. Operating companies were building loads of plants, a multitude of contractors thrived serving them, staffs were large and companies nurtured their technical people and valued their expertise. Many firms in the industry were even headed by engineers.
Magazines certainly reflected the robustness and upbeat prospects of the industry. Quite a few issues were telephone-book thick. Editors were abundant there were about two dozen on Chemical Engineering alone when I started there as an editorial assistant in May 1967 and many were engineers.
Today, like the chemical industry itself, technical magazines serving it have dramatically changed. Both are more efficient and leaner. Both face pressures that were unimaginable back then. Industry must contend with unprecedented changes in the global marketplace and economics. Magazines must redefine their role in the face of new online ways of getting information.
When I joined Chemical Engineering, Nick had already risen to senior associate editor and was responsible for the Chementator news section. I really wasnt involved much with his work on Chementator until I became European editor of the magazine in late 1971 and then regularly submitted my write-ups of news items to him. I quickly learned to appreciate his understanding of what was important to the magazines readership, as well as his grasp of technology, attention to detail, and skill as an editor.
Nick went on to become managing editor, first for news and then for technical articles, executive editor and editor in chief. To many of us, he personified Chemical Engineering magazine.
He certainly had the longest editorial career of anyone I know a record not apt to be equaled anytime soon if ever. But, its not his tenure that distinguished him. Rather, Nick embodied the highest principles of editorial work. He always put his readers first and strove to serve the chemical industry and the chemical engineering profession. He treated editorial contributions with impartiality and fairness. He maintained strict standards for editing and writing. He didnt use the magazine as a vehicle for self-promotion. He didnt bad-mouth the competition. He was the consummate professional. More than that though, Nick was truly a nice guy. Mild-mannered and self-effacing, he always treated people with respect and showed genuine concern. Not surprisingly, he earned the admiration of co-workers and competitors.
Chemical industry publishing is a poorer place without him.
However, he does leave a lasting legacy, not only in the vast amount of technical information available and made better through his efforts, but also in setting a standard that those of us fortunate enough to have worked with him must strive to perpetuate.