As a roving editor for Reader's Digest, John Hubbell had it made. He worked from home, had an unlimited travel budget and crossed paths with some real humdingers of the day. None, though, compared to his wife and nine kids.
The message on the back of a postcard sent home from one of his reporting destinations summed it up: "The only problem with this place is that there are no Hubbell kids here."
Hubbell died on Aug. 5 at 93 with his wife of 64 years, Punkin Hubbell, at his side.
Hubbell grew up mostly in Minneapolis. He was a sports star at St. Thomas Academy, served in the Navy and in 1950 got a journalism degree from the University of Minnesota.
Though a newspaper offered him a job, he declined. He wanted to write for a magazine. His first gig was for a magazine in Honeywell's Aeronautical Division, but after submitting an article to Reader's Digest, he was hired. Its founder, DeWitt Wallace, told him to find the best stories he could — whatever the cost — but reminded him that 31 million subscribers would be watching.
"In 35 years, no one's ever mentioned expenses to me," Hubbell said during a 1989 interview. "In fact, one of the things Mr. Wallace said to me the day I was hired was, 'You've got an expense account and an air travel card, so if you have to go to Timbuktu to get a paragraph to sweeten a story, you know what you have to do.' "
Hubbell found some of his best material at home in Minneapolis. Within 11 years he and his wife had eight kids. When their youngest, Katie McCollow, was 8, they had one more. Readers loved his story about the blessing of their "bonus baby," said McCollow.
"He made every single one of us feel that way," said McCollow. "No matter what he was doing or where he was going he was far more interested in us."
For more than 40 years the family lived in a big six-bedroom house near Lake Harriet with a dining table big enough for all of them and a first-floor office where Hubbell could retreat after long reporting trips.
There was a month in Spain to tell the tale of a missing hydrogen bomb. He researched a book in Thailand and made many trips to Washington, D.C., where his interviews included Richard Nixon in the Oval Office. There were stops in Algeria, the Sahara, Sicily and Monaco, among others. And he appeared on Sunday morning talk shows as well.
Punkin Hubbell said he was never gone for five weeks, and even on the road he called every night.
"I thought of him as being at home as much as he was gone," she said.
McCollow said her dad was a natural introvert who avoided book signings and that he was a disciplined writer who locked himself in his office for hours at a time, emerging only for meals or to take the kids to the beach.
From 1952 until he retired in 1993, his stories appeared in Reader's Digest more than 150 times. He also wrote for the Saturday Evening Post, True, Catholic Digest and many others. Hubble's book-length feature, "The Case of the Missing H-bomb," won the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Best Magazine Reporting in 1966, and he authored three books including "P.O.W., a Definitive History of the American Prisoner-of-War Experience in Vietnam, 1964-1973."
Sports were also a passion, especially golf. Hubbell was a member of Minneapolis Golf Club for more than 60 years, wrote profiles of both Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus and for several years the Hubbells spent March in Florida so John could play golf and Punkin could walk the beaches.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Hubbell is survived by children Woody, JP, Mary Louise Pivec, Joe, Margy Frank, Bill, Andy, Mary Jeanne Garbers, 28 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Services have been held.