Coping with Grief
We would like to offer our sincere support to anyone coping with grief. Enter your email below for our complimentary daily grief messages. Messages run for up to one year and you can stop at any time. Your email will not be used for any other purpose.
Rossiter J. Drake Jr., of Norwalk, CT, a retired magazine editor, died November 11, 2023, at Brightview Senior Living after a long and courageous struggle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 83.
Born in Lewiston, ME, July 8, 1940, the only child of Rossiter J. Drake, a textbook salesman for McGraw Hill, and his wife Louise (Brennan) Drake, a teacher, Ross moved with his family at an early age to Marblehead, MA, where he made lifelong friends. The family later moved to Westport, CT, where Ross attended public schools and graduated from Staples High School in 1958.
Though always an outstanding student, he also relished schoolboy pranks. For instance, decades before “photo bombing” became a thing, he snuck into the yearbook photo of the all-girl group that then comprised the Future Teachers of America. After high school he enrolled at Amherst College, majoring in English, and graduating with the Class of 1962.
Soon after, Ross began his career in journalism with jobs at small newspapers, later moving to the Hartford Courant, and eventually joining the staff of TV Guide in New York City. He brought his fondness for pranks with him, once writing a review of an imaginary movie he called The Brain That Ate Hot Dogs. The TV Guide editors were not amused, but Ross was too valuable to punish.
Then, while attending a friend’s wedding, he met the love of his life, Enes Bucciarelli. They wed in 1968 at St. Mary’s Church in Norwalk, beginning a marriage that would last 54 years. At about this time Ross also appeared on the TV game show Jeopardy, winning enough money for him to take his bride on a trip to Europe, to travel the Southwest, and to purchase their first home.
Their children, daughter Shana and son Rossiter (known to all as Little Ross), were born in 1972 and 1977 respectively. While the kids were still in diapers, Ross and Enes, a language arts teacher in Norwalk public schools, began taking them on summer vacations to Maine, a tradition they would follow for decades. They always stayed in the same cottage at the Claremont Hotel in Southwest Harbor and passed the days hiking, swimming, and playing croquet. The croquet was particularly important for Ross and Little Ross, who forged a uniquely strong bond, and they sometimes won the annual croquet tournament held at the hotel.
In 1974 Ross made the move that would define his career, joining the small cadre of journalists at Time Inc. that would launch PEOPLE, destined to be the most commercially successful magazine of all time and one of the most influential. As a Senior Editor (later Assistant Managing Editor), Ross won a reputation as the “gold standard” of what a magazine editor should be. Thoughtful, kind, helpful, and generous, Ross nurtured an untold number of novice writers who uniformly praise him and his tutelage.
One of them, Gay Daly, the author of Pre-Raphaelites in Love, remembers, “When I was a fledgling fact checker at PEOPLE, Ross saw I might have the potential to report and write stories. He gave me the confidence to go out there and try, which changed the arc of my career and my life. I loved working with him.”
A huge history buff, Ross collected all sorts of historic postcards and political memorabilia. He published a charming children’s book, A Likely Story, based on the stories he told daughter Shana when she was a little girl. Something certainly rubbed off— Shana would become an accomplished librarian, working at the library of Harvard’s art museum after her graduation from the university. One PEOPLE colleague, Cutler Durkee, remembers the quiet, dignified Ross excitedly running— or, rather, galumphing (Ross was no runner)— down the hall clutching a piece of paper— the letter announcing that Shana had been accepted to Harvard.
Durkee, then a young writer, says he often used to walk into Ross”s office to stretch out on his couch. Ross, his editor, a sports program silently playing on his TV, would affably keep up a conversation while he continued editing. Some nights, while Durkee kept talking, Ross would slowly get up, quietly pick up his coat, turn off the light, and head out the door, closing it behind him. Durkee took that as a sign that the day’s “therapy” session was over. “As in any office,” Durkee continues, “and as someone recently pointed out to me, there were rivalries, politics, etc…but no one ever said a bad word about Ross. Period.”
As all who knew him can attest, Ross was a diehard supporter of the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots. For Ross— the word “fan” is only a shortened form of “fanatic”— opening day at Fenway Park was close to a religious holiday. That passion was shared by Little Ross, who had followed his father’s footsteps into journalism. After an internship at Entertainment Weekly, he became a film and music critic based in San Francisco, publishing reviews and stories in the San Francisco Examiner and other publications. He and his father talked daily by phone, chewing over the sports news, exulting when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 after an 86-year drought.
So when the day came that Little Ross didn’t call or answer the phone, Ross knew something was wrong. He feared the worst. Little Ross, though in apparent good health, had died of a heart attack. He was only 34.
The blow, borne with quiet Stoicism, devastated the family. Ross was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at about that time. For years Enes dedicated herself to her husband’s difficult care, even after she herself fell gravely ill. She succumbed to cancer last year. Shana, who now lives in Ireland with her husband, Paul Kelleher, picked up the gauntlet, caring heroically for both her ailing parents during frequent months-long trips back to Connecticut.
In addition to Shana and son-in-law Paul, Ross is survived by adoring nieces Renee Bucciarelli and Karen Tomlinson and many other nephews and nieces. Interment will follow a graveside service at 11 a.m. next Monday, November 20, at St. John Cemetery, 223 Richards Avenue, Norwalk, CT. In lieu of flowers the family requests that donations be made to the Parkinson’s Foundation. A memorial service to celebrate the life of the beloved, inimitable Ross Drake will be held later at a time and place yet to be determined.