Photography by Kathy Tran
Why does airline stuff fascinate you?
Airlines are enormously complicated, and it is a tough, challenging business, and it’s one readers care about passionately. And there are so many aspects to it — operations, storms, fares, frequent flyer programs, feeding. You name it. It’s also a huge part of the pandemic story.
What has the pandemic meant for industry sub-plots?
When there’s war, when there are outbreaks of viruses, when there are storms and disasters, travel is always a big part of the story. I’ve had to almost become a medical reporter, looking at ventilation, aircraft cabins, viral transmission, the rights of travelers — it’s all part of what I write about. Business travelers aren’t traveling as much now, and that has huge implications. One of my concerns is that flying is a very stressful activity, and the pandemic-related changes have led to angry travelers, confrontations, and I am afraid one long-term result is it’s going to become more stressful and difficult.
You’re a pilot, too. Personally or professionally, how much interest do you have in space travel?
I got my pilot’s license, and I love flying, but I do not feel the urge to go to outer space, personally.
So you raised your girls in Lake Highlands. Did you ever miss Boston or consider something closer to Wall Street?
We moved to Lake Highlands from East Dallas in 1994 and love it dearly — the strong community spirit, the diversity, great schools, great friends and the neighborhood feel in the heart of the big city. We had multiple opportunities to go to New York. We just didn’t want to raise our kids there. Both went to Moss Haven Elementary and Forest Meadow Junior High, then Hockaday. Their second home was the Janie Christy School of Dance in Lake Highlands, and they remain close to Ms. Janie.
And I hear, like their parents, your daughters are making names for themselves.
Our youngest, Jen McCartney, is a writer in Los Angeles, working as a staff writer on an animated Hulu show called Solar Opposites. She’s worked on several shows — a Netflix comedy called The Big Show, the Fox sitcom LA to Vegas and The Soup with Joel McHale on E!.
Her sister Abby McCartney is a legislative aide to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, working on education and child care policy issues. Before that, she was executive director and co-founder of the nonprofit Camden Enrollment.
Photography by Kathy Tran
Your wife wrote your Wall Street Journal Middle Seat column one day. Why was that, and how did it go?
The Journal’s editor-in-chief, Matt Murray, we both know well. One day he said, “You write about other people’s travels all the time. I’d really like to read about how you travel, and I’d like Karen to write it. So I told her, and once she stopped laughing, it turned out she had been saving anecdotes, gathering string and had a lifetime of material ready to go.
And she did it beautifully. She exposed all my quirkiness, whatever. And I’m so grateful because it was a wonderful experience. And for a while every interview I would go into with a travel company or airline executive, and they’d say, “your stuff is good, but we just loved hers.” Another aspect of it was, we went to Love Field with a Journal photographer and he took these great pictures of us, and I am so grateful to have those because she died nine months after. I had this crazy collection of hotel pens from my travels, and she had whispered to me that she was going to expose my hotel-pen fetish, and I just cracked up, so there’s this one picture where I have this huge laugh on my face. Really nice picture.
Karen wrote books for young people about Roe v. Wade, Hillary Clinton, Steve Jobs, and Bonnie and Clyde, to name a few, and she also was a champion of Dallas libraries. What is her legacy?
The most important thing to her was helping young people understand this very complicated world. And she did that in her books, and she did that with her library work, with her teaching and mentoring — she tutored kids at Moss Haven and Forest Meadow — that was really what motivated her most. Her daughters — much of what is important to them, they got from her. Abby’s expertise is with early childhood education. Jenny is the creative writing side, and I’m biased, but I’m just very proud of both of them making a difference in the world.
How are you, Jenny and Abby coping?
We are heartbroken, shattered, but there has been a lot of work to do to finish all the things Karen started, like the Forest Green Library in Lake Highlands. She held that first fundraising meeting at our dining table, trying to raise $85,000, and then she died, and so the girls and I thought, “We need to finish this for her.” Her friends stepped up — Moss Haven Moms, the book clubs, and they formed this committee and they raised $108,000. And this is an extraordinary library with all these technological innovations — the only library with virtual reality goggles.
It has helped us, helped us feel Karen’s presence. It was bittersweet because she wasn’t there to see it, but it was more sweet than bitter because it really is beyond what she dreamed and hoped for.