A Decade at the Helm

For founding editor Beverly Purcell-Guerra, the 10th anniversary of SAN ANTONIO WOMAN is a deeply gratifying experience.”That we are still publishing after 10 years gives me a wonderful sense of accomplishment and satisfaction,” she says. “We have been able to cover so many aspects of the community and to help a lot of women understand other women’s lives and issues of importance. I am fortunate to have been involved with this magazine from the start.” That start was sudden and swift. A former editor for several San Antonio Express-News publications, Purcell-Guerra was serving as a volunteer advisory board member for a local publication when she met PixelWorks owner Michael Gaffney. The publication was looking for a new publisher, and Gaffney was invited for a talk. Since Purcell-Guerra was the only one with magazine experience, it fell to her to interview him. He got the contract, but before long the tables were turned, and he hired her.

At the time, Gaffney was already considering starting a women’s publication for San Antonio, so when he learned of Purcell-Guerra’s background, he lost no time offering her the job of editor. “He hired me in September 2002, and he wanted the first magazine in November,” recalls Purcell-Guerra. “That was quite a challenge. Fortunately, my experience at the Express-News helped. I called upon the writers and photographers I knew, and they came through for me. When that first issue came out, we were jumping from joy that we actually did it in 60 days.” Though SAN ANTONIO WOMAN (SAW) took a while to settle into its current format, one question was settled right at the start: who gets to grace the cover. The new editor insisted that the cover photo should relate to the content and not feature models. Right away, she envisioned the magazine more along the lines of Vanity Fair than a traditional women’s publication. In her initial Letter from the Editor, she wrote: “The goal of the magazine is to capture the spirit of San Antonio’s women and to write about the issues, the ideas and the trends that women want to know more about. We will present creative, stimulating and provocative social and civic issues for our readers.” In addition, every issue has featured a personality profile and a variety of articles on the arts, health, food, decorating, finances and homes among other topics.

After 10 years, she feels comfortable saying that SAW has lived up to her expectations. Among hundreds of articles, it can be hard to recall the most memorable stories that resonated with the readership, but after a bit of reflection, she cites a few highlights: the article about military wives, the story about families with disabled children (heartbreaking), another about the women rebuilding their lives following divorce or death of a spouse (impressive) and the organ transplant story that covered both the heartache and the joy that are part and parcel of this life-renewing experience. “These are the kinds of stories that are helpful to other women who may be going through similar situations in their lives,” says the editor. “Profiles are also a strong draw, as readers’ feedback indicates. Other highlights include the 2005 Magazine of the Year honor and the 2006 Best Editorial recognition from the Women’s Regional Publications of America.” Purcell-Guerra is quick to share credit with her entire team, however: “I have a wonderful group of writers, photographers, graphic artists and a wonderful copy editor. Quite simply, we have some of the most talented people in the city.”

Which is not to say that things have always been easy. Being the only editor on staff – who since last year is also overseeing PixelWorks’ newest publication, SAN ANTONIO MAN – she has had her share of sleepless nights as well as staying-in-the-office nights. Sometimes stories fall through, sometimes writers need more time, and sometimes you have trouble reaching the people you need to reach. She’s always on the lookout for potentially good stories, she notes. “My life is the magazine. I represent the magazine wherever I go – a meeting, a party, everywhere,” she says. Publisher Michael Gaffney goes a step further. “For all intents and purposes Beverly is SAN ANTONIO WOMAN,” he says. “The magazine’s content is a direct reflection of her high standards of quality, which gives us credibility with the readers. She is not willing to compromise on that. She is also a person who is passionately interested in this community and has a finger on the pulse of what our readers are interested in. She keeps the content focused on the people of San Antonio, and that’s our strength. That’s even more remarkable, considering that she’s not from here.”

The road to San Antonio

Growing up in Boston, Beverly Kimtis thought she would eventually have a career as a department store buyer. When she moved to New York and applied for a buyer trainee job, however, she was told that it wasn’t worth the store’s time to train her because she would probably leave in two years to settle in her marriage and have babies. Her second try was luckier, and she spent a year with a clothing manufacturer learning how to merchandise a product line. That led to a job with Ingenue magazine, where she helped choose items featured on fashion pages and traveled beyond New York to put on teen fashion shows at stores that advertised with the magazine. In her mid-20s, she was beginning “to feel like I have a career going.” Then came Vogue, Glamour and Vogue again, but in between the last two she took six years off for marriage and children, rejoining the fashion giant in 1979 as merchandising editor. Her recollections of working with legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland during her first stint at the American fashion bible reveal aspects of the fashion press that few people know about. Vreeland was so powerful in that industry that she would summon famed designers to tell them what she wanted to see in their upcoming lines. “Vreeland dictated what women were going to wear,” says Purcell-Guerra. “She was a fashion genius, very creative and imaginative. Women followed her.” Purcell-Guerra was at Vogue in the late ’60s, when Yves Saint Laurent introduced pants in his collection. Until then, women couldn’t wear pants to work or even to a restaurant.

When Purcell-Guerra returned to Vogue in ’79, Vreeland had been forced to cede the fashion throne to Grace Mirabella, and changes in women’s lives had induced fashion to become more realistic. “The magazine went from dictating to designers to talking to women about what they wanted or needed as they established careers and did more traveling and commuting,” says Purcell-Guerra, who by this time was a single mother of two. She was also at Vogue when Anna Wintour replaced Mirabella as editor. Wintour is a powerful woman in fashion, and some say she was the prototype for the editor in The Devil Wears Prada. As merchandising editor, Purcell-Guerra continued to travel across the country to create, coordinate and produce Vogue promotions at high-end stores and to present fashion shows and clinics for customers as well as sales and management personnel.

She also did newspaper, television and radio interviews to discuss current fashion trends.

One such trip brought her to the Alamo City, where she met and befriended Mary Ann Guerra and her broadcaster/historian husband, Henry. On a subsequent visit, her friends took her to La Fogata for lunch and invited their cousin, Dr. Fernando Guerra, to join the group. A busy pediatrician, he admits his “3-second decision” to have that lunch changed the course of his and Beverly’s life. They dated long-distance for 1 1/2 years before tying the knot in June 1982, merging their family of six children, who at the time were ages 7, 8, 9, 10, 13 and 14, all living with them. Dr. Guerra was given a fellowship to study public health at Harvard and subsequently became the longtime director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District while Purcell-Guerra kept her Vogue job for another nine years before turning her full attention to the San Antonio scene. The couple’s adult children now live in five different cities. Her life path has veered in several directions over the years, but she believes that things happen for a reason. It’s an outlook she accepted from her mother and internalized. So change is something she knows how to handle, whether good or bad. “When I left the Express-News, I thought I was going to retire, and then Mike appeared and offered me a new opportunity to maintain my career and continue to serve our community. Somehow, it all works out in the end,” she says.

The day we met at her home for this interview, far from the office commotion, one of their sons and his wife were in San Antonio to introduce their new baby boy, the Guerras’ sixth grandchild, with the seventh on the way. The grandparents find themselves flying all over the country to spend weekends with their expanding brood. Purcell-Guerra can rarely leave for longer than that. With two magazines to run, her schedule is demanding, yet she nevertheless finds time for volunteer work as well, currently serving on the San Antonio Symphony’s board and chairing the Friends of Hospice board, a duty that’s close to her heart. The organization raises funds for the only nonprofit hospice in town, the CHRISTUS VNA Hospice & Palliative Care, which helped Purcell-Guerra in her hour of need.
“When my aunt had a long illness and her health started to deteriorate, we moved her here (to San Antonio). The CHRISTUS hospice people were so wonderful to her,” she explains. “They helped me as much as they helped my aunt. When I had to use their services, I realized how very important hospice is for end-of-life care.” Purcell-Guerra is also on the boards of the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center Foundation, the Cancer Center Council and the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance and has served on others in the past.

“Beverly is SAN ANTONIO WOMAN. The magazine’s content is a direct reflection of her high standards of quality, which gives us credibility with the readers. She is not willing to compromise on that … She keeps the content focused on the people of San Antonio, and that’s our strength.” -Mike Gaffney, Publisher

The main reason she likes her job is that it allows her to get involved with the community and learn about what is going on and what’s on people’s minds. “The learning side is the most fun,” observes Purcell-Guerra. “But I like to think that the community is also learning from SAN ANTONIO WOMAN magazine. We intend to stay in touch with our readers to keep current on their needs, but we’ll also continue to bring them stories that we think are important, timely and relevant.”

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