On the masthead of this, our 500th issue, we welcome S. Christopher Meigher III as publisher. A former president of Time Distribution Services (which oversees the allotment of PEOPLE each week) and, recently, Corporate Circulation Director, he has been a colleague and friend of this magazine for many years.

But, sadly, in greeting Chris, we must say goodbye to Dick Durrell, PEOPLE'S publisher for a decade. He was there at the magazine's conception, questioning, worrying and mapping strategy. And he has not stopped probing since. Because of that attention PEOPLE has thrived: It now has the third largest readership (21.8 million weekly) among U.S. magazines. Dick Durrell made that happen.

Every Saturday managers of grocery and convenience stores in Fairfield County, Conn. would find Dick personally straightening PEOPLE displays and checking sales. He visited dozens of stores every weekend, not because he had to, but because he cared so much about the success of this magazine.

Similarly, on his frequent forays across the country, Durrell would make dozens of stops to make certain that PEOPLE was available—and visible—at supermarkets along his route. He can correctly gauge the sales figures of an issue a week before computer estimates are available.

Durrell has always been curious, seeking readers' opinions—on politics, education, movies, music, TV. He would report back his findings in 2 a.m. phone calls to the editors who were in New York closing the next issue.

Dick Durrell has kept a loving eye on PEOPLE. He has also been a nitpicker and a nudge, but seldom has he been wrong. The only times we can think of when he was not on the editors' side were during intramural softball games, where he starred as a slick-fielding shortstop for the business side. (At 16, Dick declined a Brooklyn Dodgers offer and instead went on to play at the University of Minnesota and in semipro leagues.)

Early retirement at 58 will simply mean redirecting his astonishing energies. We will be consulting with him regularly, but he is also planning to teach and lecture on communications and publishing and will be supporting the political career of his wife, Jacky, who this month was elected mayor (first selectman) of Fairfield.

We asked Dick last week to name his favorites among the many dozens of PEOPLE subjects he has met. Those he remembered most affectionately made for a revealingly diverse group. They were Tanya Tucker, Clare Boothe Luce, Diana Rigg, Herb Brooks, Willie Stargell, Art Buchwald and Sen. Mike Mansfield. That list speaks volumes about the breadth of Dick's interests.

As he moves on, the editors thank him for his many accomplishments as our founding publisher and, above all, for being so passionately involved, astute, good-humored and caring. We shall miss you, Dick. Godspeed.