Cheryl Sullivan: Epitome of leadership with grace

Cheryl Sullivan, the national news editor of The Christian Science Monitor, died Tuesday. Ms. Sullivan was a dynamic, kind leader who helped usher in the Monitor's Web-first era.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Cheryl Sullivan, national news editor of The Christian Science Monitor.

Cheryl Sullivan, the national news editor of The Christian Science Monitor, died Tuesday Aug. 12, 2014, after a brief and sudden illness.

Ms. Sullivan was a dynamic leader in the Monitor newsroom, a sharp-eyed and incisive editor who could wrap even the most difficult tasks and decisions in a warm smile and a gracious tone that both reassured and motivated her staff of 22 reporters and editors.

She drew on that skill extensively as she drove the national news department to expand its reach and breadth as part of the Monitor's shift in 2009 to a Web-first news organization.

She also played a central role in developing DC Decoder, a signature feature of national coverage that helps readers gain insight on and understanding of the dynamics of Washington politics.

“She has been a great news leader. Her judgment was always quick, clear, tightly put, and grounded in long reporting and editing experience and deep grasp of news. But she delivered it softly. She wielded her authority with the loving if sometimes harried touch of the mother she was – and is. And that is how engaged she was with her staff and their work. She brought heart and care and unstinting steadfastness to leading her team every day,” said Monitor editor Marshall Ingwerson in a note to the staff today.

Sullivan started her career with the Monitor three decades ago, and served as a Boston City Hall reporter, a San Francisco-based reporter covering California and the Pacific Northwest, a writing coach for young staffers, assistant managing editor overseeing features, and as a deputy national news editor.

At a recent meeting with Christian Science church members in southern California, Sullivan talked about readers engaging with the news, even when it's "too depressing."

She is survived by her husband, George Mandell; a son, Grayson; and a daughter, Anna.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Sullivan's honor may be sent to The Monitor Operating Fund, The First Church of Christ, Scientist,  Office of the Treasurer, P05-10, 210 Massachusetts Avenue,  Boston, MA 02115 or online.

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.