THROUGH THE 17 YEARS OF OUR EXISTENCE, PEOPLE has become so familiar a sight on the American scene that, even in our offices, memories of our boisterous beginnings have faded. There are still those, however, who vividly recall the patient editors who spent long days and longer nights shaping a new kind of national publication. One such pioneer was Cranston E. Jones, who died in Manhattan on June 1 at 73, and whose sophisticated, lively touch will remain part of the magazine as long as it lives.

Cran was not present at PEOPLE'S launch on March 4, 1974, but joined the staff as a senior editor shortly thereafter. A mature and immaculate symbol of the double-breasted blue blazer school of haberdashery, he was of another generation from most of the staff, which had a median age in the 20s and a leaning toward sneakers and jeans. Yet, recalls Richard A. Burgheim, then a senior editor and now PEOPLE'S editor for special projects, "his arrival at the magazine during its struggling first summer was a godsend. He was fresh and indefatigable yet battle-tested. He brought a graceful prose and corridor style as well as a demanding eye for pictures and design. He lent particular distinction and authority to our early coverage of the arts and the social scene."

In fact, Cran was equipped to cover virtually any subject. His career in journalism had begun in 1940, when, just out of Harvard, he joined TIME as a copy boy. He commanded a destroyer escort in the Pacific during World War II, then returned to TIME as a writer, then bureau chief in Rio de Janeiro and later as a senior editor. He was also the author of three well-received books on architecture. "I wondered if he would look down his nose at our coverage," recalls Richard B. Stolley, founding editor of PEOPLE and now editorial director of Time Inc. Magazines. "I needn't have worried. He was as enthusiastic about our new challenge as anyone."

Cran retired three years ago and looked forward to spending more time with his wife, Jean, son Baird and daughter Abigail, who recently presented him with a second grandchild. He also began a book on Colonial American history. He would not have the chance to complete the project, but in 1984 he edited a volume whose title neatly summarizes both his many contributions and Cran himself: The Best of PEOPLE.