A Grateful Farewell to "JAF"

No one loved the South—or Southern Living—more than a beloved editor-in-chief who led the magazine for nearly 20 years.

Former Southern Living Editor in Chief, John Floyd
John Floyd on the Southern Living campus in 2008. Photo: Robbie Caponetto

John Alex Floyd Jr. (February 21, 1948 - February 7, 2021)

I had been working for the parent company of Southern Living for over a decade when John Floyd (aka "JAF") decided it was time for me to join his editorial staff. And when John decided it was time, well, it was time. He was the larger-than-life patriarch of the magazine, one with a formidable presence and a contagious passion for the South. He could be very persuasive.

He took the helm as editor-in-chief of Southern Living in 1991, following his long-serving predecessor, Gary McCalla. To say John was well prepared for the job is an understatement. He was born for it. And he loved the magazine like a family member. More accurately, he loved its readers and subscribers like family members.

The Selma, Alabama, native came to Southern Living as senior horticulturist in 1977, bringing to the table two degrees from Auburn and a doctorate from Clemson, as well as an insistence on discipline, accuracy, and most of all, an unwavering focus on readers. From then on, he was frequently called upon whenever strong editorial leadership was needed. In 1985, Southern Living Classics became the company's first startup since 1966, with John as editor. When this new magazine was folded into an acquisition, Southern Accents, John was named editorial director, a title he would hold for more new magazines, including Cooking Light, which launched in 1987. For several years, he even led a creative team for the Southern Living Advertising department, where he began to envision the kind of partnership between editorial and advertising that would maximize both reader service and ad revenue.

But those are just the facts. They don't touch the heart and soul. John was personally engaged with every member of his staff, from interns to executive editors. Every year, during my performance review, he reminded me that my faith and my family should always take priority, with the magazine coming in a distant third. On 9/11, I remember John walking the corridors of Southern Living and calling out—loudly—to managers, "Find your people and tell them to get someplace safe and stay there till we can get them home." All he was thinking about was the welfare of his staff—not the stories pending, not the production schedule, not the cost—just "the family."

John was definitely a paternal leader, but that doesn't mean he wasn't tough. Story conferences could be painful if we were ill-prepared. As John pointed out the flaws in a story concept or the photography, our inevitable excuses would begin to flow: We had bad weather for the shoot. My recorder jammed. They gave me a terrible interview. John would patiently listen and then hit us with the cold, hard truth: "Reader doesn't know. Reader doesn't care." In other words, quit your whining and do your job.

What else? He was a connoisseur of fried chicken. He hated English peas and refused to allow them in the test kitchens. He had a very heavy foot. We all knew to get our prayer life in order before climbing into his SUV. He could be frugal to a fault when it came to expense reports but incredibly generous in his support for people in need and his willingness to give back to the community. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens and The Greater Birmingham Foundation, which he loved and faithfully served, are testaments to that. He was also a dedicated member and regular volunteer at Birmingham's Huffman United Methodist Church.

While John was absolutely the last word at the magazine, he freely admitted that his wife, Pam, whom he often called "Mrs. Floyd," ruled their household. Not only that, but John said he always watched her read each new issue of the magazine to see how fast she turned the pages and to gauge which stories she liked the best. Once, I told Pam that I was having trouble persuading John to let us photograph the Floyds in front of their Christmas tree at home, and she said, "When do you want him there?" The boss's boss had spoken.

John was completely devoted to his family, including the grandkids who called him "JAF." He loved getting away to Rosemary Beach and the house he and Pam built there as a legacy to their two sons. I like to picture him smiling down at all the little Floyd footprints that will dot that beautiful beach on the Gulf. And I hope, somehow, he knows how much he is loved and remembered and appreciated by his forever grateful Southern Living family.

Those who would like to honor John's memory may consider a contribution to the John Floyd Memorial Fund at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens or to Huffman United Methodist Church.

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