In January 1954, a bright-eyed 24-year-old from Cole Camp, Mo., walked into Fortune magazine’s offices at Rockefeller Center. Armed with a college journalism degree and work experience writing for a Maytag company magazine, she took an entry-level job assisting Fortune’s male writers.
The young woman, Carol Loomis, navigated the magazine’s “Mad Men”-like culture, on one occasion slapping a married colleague whom, she delicately recalled, “had an agenda.” She proved herself as a reporter but had to battle gender stereotypes. In 1970, she fought her way into an Economic Club of New York dinner after its director said he did not want “any frivolous little Smith girls looking for a free dinner and the chance to spend an evening with 1,200 men in black tie.”
After 60 years at Fortune, Ms. Loomis is retiring as one of the country’s most venerated financial journalists, with a collection of work that reads like a history of modern Wall Street.
“She has an analytical mind and she keeps learning,” said Warren E. Buffett, the billionaire investor and a close friend. “We males never do that. We quit at about 15. We just think we know it all. At 85, she is interested in learning more.”
In the 1960s, she wrote one of the first articles about hedge funds. She reported two cover articles on the risk of derivatives in the mid-1990s, long before those instruments contributed to the near-collapse of the global economy. A 1999 piece, “Lies, Damn Lies and Managed Earnings,” presaged the wave of accounting scandals a few years later. On Monday, Fortune will publish her final article before she retires, a piece about one of the world’s most powerful financiers, Laurence D. Fink of BlackRock.
Ms. Loomis is perhaps best known as Mr. Buffett’s Boswell. She has been Fortune’s resident expert on Mr. Buffett since meeting him in 1966, and each year edits the annual shareholder letter of Mr. Buffett’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, an unusual role for a financial journalist. The two speak nearly every business day and are frequent bridge partners, playing mostly over the Internet.
She will have more time now for bridge. At her age, she said, it was becoming too difficult to jump on a plane and take extended trips to write the deeply reported, lengthy magazine features that she worked on throughout her career.
“I began to realize that some of the things that a Fortune writer needs to do, just take for granted, become a little bit harder at this age,” said Ms. Loomis, seated in a Fortune conference room on Wednesday. “I didn’t want to be a Fortune writer who was constrained in any way.”
Ms. Loomis stressed that her departure had no connection to the recent spinoff of Fortune’s parent company, Time Inc., from the media conglomerate Time Warner. In fact, she said she was never fond of Time Inc.’s 1989 merger with Warner Communications.
“I think it’s good that we’re out here on our own, don’t have to send money to Time Warner, and we sent a lot of money to Time Warner,” she said.
When Ms. Loomis started at Fortune, she was surrounded by journalistic luminaries. The magazine’s masthead included Hedley Donovan, who would go on to succeed Henry Luce as the editor in chief of Time Inc. William H. Whyte, author of “The Organization Man,” the seminal book about corporate culture, and the famed photographer Walker Evans, were also on the magazine’s staff.
She soon became a luminary herself. Among her influential articles was a 1966 piece about another former Fortune employee, Alfred Winslow Jones, considered the father of the hedge fund industry. For decades, readers contacted Fortune for copies of the piece to use as a blueprint for using hedging techniques to make money on both rising and falling stocks. Ms. Loomis cast something of a skeptical eye on Mr. Jones’s fund, calling his record in forecasting the market “only fair.”
Alan Farnham, a former Fortune writer who worked at the magazine during the 1980s and ’90s, said Ms. Loomis taught him how much work went into producing great journalism. He worked for her as a researcher, and remembers her arriving at the office with a suitcase of documents and poring over them for days. “She would research something to the nth degree before any of the interviewing started,” he said. “It was evident by every word and deed that she was committing herself to an uninterrupted siege of work.”
Fortune’s editors helped Ms. Loomis over her six-decade career — she is Time Inc.’s longest-serving employee — by allowing her a flexible schedule. In 1968, after she had her second child, her editors let her take summers off. As she hit her mid-60s, she cut her schedule to working seven months a year. And last year Andrew Serwer, Fortune’s managing editor, agreed to cut back her output to three lengthy features a year.
“We wanted to keep her and we wanted to keep her happy,” Mr. Serwer said. “You should be flexible for your most important employees.”
She was introduced to Mr. Buffett by her husband, John, a retired partner at First Manhattan, the New York investment manager. The couple, married 54 years, are longtime Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. They raised two children in Larchmont, N.Y., the Westchester suburb where they still live.
Now that she is officially retired, Ms. Loomis said she hoped to first catch up on the lunches she missed while finishing her article on Mr. Fink and BlackRock. She also needs to find a place for the nine boxes of reporter’s notes cluttering her garage. And she looks forward to playing more golf and bridge.
Ms. Loomis also plans to continue her regular conversations with Mr. Buffett and assist him with his writings. After editing the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letter for nearly 40 years, she likes to remind Mr. Buffett that he still needs her help. She said that dangling participles and the passive voice were persistent problems.
“I kid him,” she said, “that he missed the class on active verbs.”