The retirement of legendary editor Robert Loomis, who worked with Maya Angelou and William Styron, doesn't signal the end of a publishing era
After 54 years at Random House Robert Loomis, soon to turn 85, is preparing to retire, although he's assured his writers that he will keep working on their books that are under contract. Reports of Loomis's plans highlighted his truly illustrious authors, including William Styron (a college friend at Duke), Maya Angelou, Neil Sheehan, Seymour Hersh, Daniel Boorstin, Jonathan Harr, Jim Lehrer, Edmund Morris, Calvin Trillin, Shelby Foote, and John Toland, among others. "Nurturer of Authors Is Closing the Book" was the New York Times headline. Loomis's esteem is long-standing. Random House founder Bennett Cerf described him in a memoir published after his death in 1971 as "one of those painstaking editors in the old tradition ... helpful to a great variety of writers of both fiction and non-fiction." In her comments, Gina Centrello, president of the Random House Publishing Group (and, by my count, the tenth publisher at the company that Loomis had worked for), echoed Cerf's praise: "Creative publishing begins with the author-editor relationship," she told the Times. "Bob epitomizes the editor's role at its best."
For a decade in the 1980s and early 1990s, I had an office down the hall from Loomis, so I can attest to his extraordinary skill at guiding authors through the immensely complex process that writing a book can be—and I mean a real book, like Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. Shortly after I arrived at Random House in 1984, I noticed two large shopping bags in a corner of Loomis's office, which, he explained, were the drafts of Sheehan's book. In all, it took 16 years for Sheehan to write Vann's biography, which was much more than a life story. It was the definitive account of America's failed but peculiarly well-intentioned imperial adventure to curb communism in Vietnam.