John P. McMeel, co-founder and chairman emeritus of Kansas City-based Andrews McMeel Universal, passed away July 7, 2021, announced AMU Chairman Hugh T. Andrews. He was 85 years old.
"John was one of the most dynamic, energetic, and positive personalities one might ever encounter," said Andrews. His unwavering optimism, enthusiasm, and true passion for life — and most of all, for people — was evident in everything he did. For John, it was all about relationships. He cared deeply, certainly for his family, but also for associates, creators, and business partners, ensuring all felt valued, and welcome."
"John didn't just build a business, he built a culture," said Garry Trudeau, creator of Doonesbury. "Creators enjoyed unprecedented freedom and support from the team he and his late partner, Jim Andrews, assembled over the years. He was a joyful warrior on our behalf, and earned the rare distinction of being every newspaper editor's favorite salesman. His blarney was legendary, but behind it was a deep regard and respect for the artists he championed. That loyalty was mutual; many of us fondly called him 'boss' for decades. All of us will miss him dearly."
"I'm not sure I ever met anyone who was more enthusiastic and energized about life and work than John," said Gary Larson, creator of The Far Side®. "I confess to being a little on the withdrawn side when I first meet someone, and here was this highly animated, twinkle-in-his-eye guy with a great smile and strong handshake, wholeheartedly welcoming me to my new home as a cartoonist. I might have initially thought his demeanor couldn't be entirely real, but over the years I came to realize that, no, this was John. He truly loved the business he was in, cared about others, and seemed to be an eternal optimist. I think that's a rare species. Over the years, every time I crossed paths with John, he made me feel like I had just returned from a Siberian prison camp. It was effective, and I will miss him, and his glass-is-half-full attitude toward life."
"John made dreams we didn't know we had come true. He was the dazzling light behind my career and so many others," said Cathy Guisewite, creator of Cathy. "He changed the comic pages and everyone who read them forever with the brave chances he took on our work, the glorious walls of support he built behind us, and his boundless, infectious insistence that anything and everything was possible. But the very best of John was how he wrapped his giant generous heart and soul around every one of us, infused us with his deep values and joyful spirit and made us feel so much more than part of a team. He made us part of a family."
"John McMeel was a dear, dear man who loved the writers and artists he supported for over 50 years. He believed in us and fostered a work environment that allowed us to be the children that we are," said Jim Davis, creator of Garfield. "A charming and witty man, he was always armed with words of support, encouragement and inspiration. My wife, Jill, and I will miss John dearly. John McMeel was all heart, and our hearts go out to his family, friends and associates."
Born January 26, 1936, in South Bend, Indiana, McMeel was the son of the University of Notre Dame's team doctor under football coach Knute Rockne, growing up in the shadow of the Golden Dome. It was an abiding influence and helped to establish a firm commitment to faith, family, friends, and the importance of these relationships, sustained through a remarkable life.
Following graduation from Notre Dame in 1957 with a degree in business, McMeel enrolled in law school at Indiana University. After a year in law school, he transitioned to sales as assistant manager and national sales director of Publishers Hall Syndicate in New York City, selling newspaper features. While in New York, he met and married Susan Sykes in 1966.
After a few years editing and selling newspaper features on the side, McMeel and James (Jim) Andrews founded Universal Press Syndicate with their wives, Susan McMeel and Kathleen Andrews, in 1970.
His energized personality helped catapult the company into one of the most influential and successful media enterprises in the country. As the burgeoning company grew in prestige and revenue, McMeel was met with a tremendous challenge: the untimely death of his business partner in 1980. Undeterred, he worked through his grief and continued to honor Andrews' memory by developing and nurturing their dream.
The company, now Andrews McMeel Universal, is a multifaceted media enterprise that comprises Andrews McMeel Syndication, the nation's largest independent newspaper syndicate and a leading digital entertainment provider; Andrews McMeel Publishing, an industry leader with multiple New York Times bestsellers, the nation's top calendar producer, and a greeting card division; and Andrews McMeel Entertainment, its film and television division, with numerous projects in the pipeline.