To Janet Hewitt: A Fond Farewell


On a cold December day in 1999 I sat in what was then the lobby of the Mortgage Bankers Association on 15th Street NW in Washington, D.C. (four buildings ago, if anyone is counting), awaiting an interview for a reporter position with the now-defunct MBA publication Real Estate Finance Today.

Although I had done some research about MBA, I was still looking for more–anything to show my interviewer that I was ready to hit the ground running. On a coffee table I spotted a copy of Mortgage Banking magazine. noting the name of the publication’s editor, Janet Reilley Hewitt. Maybe if I get the job I can write for this magazine, too, I thought.

Eager to glean further insight about the mortgage industry, I picked it up for a quick read.

Big mistake.

What I learned was that one does not simply “quick-read” Mortgage Banking. That is like saying you watch Jeopardy for the fart jokes. Mortgage Banking was intended to be digested, thoroughly, as if it were a scholarly journal, or a bible.

I should have set it down immediately. I was half-tempted to cancel the interview, intimidated by the magazine’s quality. I feared I would never be able to write like this.

Somehow, I got the job. And seventeen years later, I can tell you that I am no closer to matching Janet’s editorial quality than I was back then. But I say that with no embarrassment. Because Janet Hewitt occupies rarified air–a journalist who knows her subject matter and writes with confidence and authority. Simply put, she writes as if she is a mortgage banker.

This is no small feat. Most reporters are merely experts for the moment. We can and must write, convincingly, about any number of complicated issues. In a typical week, MBA NewsLink stories cover the gamut of real estate finance, from comment letters on Basel III, to latest developments involving mortgage-backed securities or Uniform Residential Loan Applications, to what’s going on inside Janet Yellin’s head. We ask questions; we file stories; we move on to the next story.

And fortunately for us, we MBA reporters have the luxury of having real experts and analysts at our fingertips. If I have a question about housing data, I can walk down that hallway and interview a half-dozen MBA economists. If I need information about legislation or regulations, I have more than a two dozen MBA content experts at my fingertips. We have experts on commercial/multifamily; legal issues; membership. We MBA reporters are spoiled.

But that has never been good enough for Janet.

To illustrate: several years ago, I attended an MBA press luncheon at our Annual Convention. I sat with reporters from a dozen other newspapers and trade publications while MBA officials outlined the association’s goals for the coming year and the economic outlook. Then came time for questions.

Now, as a general rule, I don’t like to ask questions at MBA news conferences. Since I have access to MBA officials in general, I don’t need to take another reporter’s face time. And I’m also sensitive to the notion that even if I did raise my hand, my query could come across as a “softball” or even a planted question, which does nothing for my credibility–or MBA’s.

Janet has no such qualms. I recall that Janet immediately raised her hand and asked a question that was neither softball, nor ambush. I don’t remember the exact question, but I remember that it was perfect–the kind of question that comes with institutional knowledge, maturity and tact.

I’m still not capable of that. Especially the “tact” part. (Remember, I’ve already told a fart joke.)

Today is Janet Reilley Hewitt’s last day at MBA. After 32 years–as a reporter for REFT, and later as its editor; and as a reporter, editor and guiding force for Mortgage Banking–Janet begins a well-deserved and long-overdue retirement.

For MBA, the loss is acute. To see this kind of institutional knowledge walk (deservedly) out the door is a huge blow. She is the most valuable and irreplaceable MBA human resource since the late, great Burton Wood.

Over the years Janet set an example for me. Her institutional knowledge of the industry and her journalistic integrity provided the best mentoring a reporter could have ever hoped for. The only reason you are seeing these words from me today is because I was smart enough (barely) to follow her example.

So as you go about your business today, send a blessing to Janet for her amazing service to this trade association and to the real estate finance industry. And join us all here at MBA in wishing her well.