A Remembrance of John Floyd, Former Southern Living Editor-in-Chief

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John Floyd
Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens

John Floyd, former editor-in-chief of Southern Living, died Sunday, February 7, 2021.

Birmingham-area residents are remembering former Southern Living editor John Alex Floyd Jr. The Alabama native died Sunday from cancer. He was 72. 

Southern Living, which has been based in Birmingham since its founding in 1966, was for many years considered to be a reflection of the old, white South. Floyd did a lot to change that image.

“He was very aware of the South changing, and the diversity of the South, and wanted that to be reflected in the pages of the magazine, and [in] hiring practices,” said Jeanetta Keller, the magazine’s former executive vice president and editorial director.

When he retired in 2008, Floyd had worked at Southern Living for more than 40 years, almost half of that as editor. He took a lot of heat for the magazine’s coverage of issues such as the Civil Rights struggle and how immigrants were making new lives for themselves in the South. Still, Southern Living remained one of the country’s largest-circulation magazines during his tenure, with stories about homes, food, travel, and gardens.

Valerie Fraser Luesse was hired by Floyd in 2001 and is now Southern Living’s senior travel editor. She said Floyd, who grew up in Selma, understood the needs of the magazine’s readers, especially those who live in small towns and come from a middle-income background.

“John was all about helping ordinary people, ordinary families just make the best of their life,” she said. “He used to say it’s not hard to come up with a great idea that costs $100,000 but come up with one that is $10 or less. Come up with something that anybody can afford.”

Outside of work, Floyd focused much of his attention on helping people in the Birmingham area by working with the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, serving on their boards and in other volunteer capacities.

He also worked with his church, Huffman United Methodist, and the Trussville School system. There are stories about him helping scores of individuals get through hard times, offering to help folks buy appliances, a car, and other items.

“I don’t know how many lives John changed for the better, but he saw qualities in people that they couldn’t see for themselves. He had a passion for the South, for Southern Living, and its readers and employees,” said Keller.

Floyd is survived by his wife Pam, and two sons and their families, and a sister. Because of pandemic-related restrictions, burial services will be private. However, a public memorial service will be held at a later date. 

Editor’s Note: The author of this story was previously an employee at Southern Living and, for part of his time there, reported directly to John Alex Floyd Jr. Also, this story originally noted that John Floyd passed away on Monday. It’s been updated to reflect that he died on Sunday.

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