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May 2009

Tribute to Frances MacNeil

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2009;66(5):486. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2009.53

To authors, reviewers, Archives and JAMA staff, and readers, it is with profound sadness that I announce the retirement of our editorial assistant, Mary Frances (“Fran”) MacNeil, for health reasons. Fran started as my secretarial assistant when I became the chairman of the Consolidated Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School 18 years ago. She then assumed the position of editorial assistant for the Archives of General Psychiatry when I accepted the editorship in late 2001 after completing my term as chairman.

The transition in that first year was extremely taxing. Learning the system and cleaning up the inevitable backlog of manuscripts while new manuscripts were being submitted at a steady pace were daunting. The office was awash with paper, but Fran managed to make order out of what seemed to be chaos. My goal was to bring down the time from submission to the first decision and the time from acceptance to publication, which was nearly a year then, so that the Archives could compete for the best science. Within 2 years, we were able to make a decision within 4 weeks in more than 90% of the submissions, and the time from acceptance to publication fell to slightly over 6 months. Fran's organizational skills and determination made these gains possible.

She shepherded the Archives as submissions, reviews, and all communications moved from being paper based to being fully electronic. The process initially seemed quite complicated but ultimately proved to be highly efficient. Thus, the Archives’ statistics improved further and its citation impact rose to 15.98 this last year.

Fran was born and raised in Inverness, Nova Scotia, Canada. She was the youngest of 6 children, with her nearest sibling being 11 years older. She graduated from the University of Alberta and then moved to Belmont, Massachusetts, where several of her aunts resided. She obtained a position in the legal department at McLean Hospital, a Harvard affiliate. She has worked at McLean for more than 40 years in several positions of responsibility. Her husband died of cancer when she was in her mid 40s, and she raised a son and a daughter alone. They are both now very successful professionals, each with 2 children.

Fran is a very formal person. Everyone was always addressed by his or her proper title (“Fran, you can call me Joe.” “Yes, Dr Coyle.”). Given the Archives’ rejection rate of more than 85%, there were a lot of unhappy authors. But, she always dealt with the authors and reviewers with great respect and patience, even if they were clearly in the wrong. Her greatest personal liability was her greatest asset for the Archives: she blamed herself if anything went wrong. As a consequence, her attention to detail was meticulous so that no mistakes would ever happen. While she was not shy, she clearly did not want to draw attention to herself. Yet, she had a rich sense of humor and could skewer the foibles of the academics with whom she was in constant contact. Every day would be punctuated by a few hearty laughs that lightened the pressure of dealing with the unremitting flow of manuscripts. She was intensely loyal to and proud of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Fran will be greatly missed by the extended Archives family.