- Associated Press - Friday, May 6, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Robert Loomis, one of publishing’s most accomplished and longest serving editors, is retiring.

In a company memo shared with The Associated Press, the Random House Publishing Group announced Friday that Loomis was stepping down after 55 years with the company, effective the end of June. Loomis has worked with such commercially and critically successful writers as William Styron, Edmund Morris, Calvin Trillin and Maya Angelou, who has credited Loomis with pushing her into completing her first book, the classic “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

“Robert Loomis has been my editor since 1968,” Angelou said in a statement Friday. “He has guided and encouraged me through 31 books. I can’t imagine trusting a manuscript in the hands of anyone else. I am not finished writing, so I cannot let him retire.”

Random House spokeswoman Theresa Zoro said the 85-year-old Loomis was out of town and unavailable for comment. She added that he was in good health and would continue working on books already in process.

“Book publishing formats and channels of distribution continue to evolve, but creative publishing begins with the author-editor relationship. Bob epitomizes the editor’s role at its best,” Random House president and publisher Gina Centrello wrote in the memo. “On a personal note, Bob has been a teacher and mentor to countless current and former colleagues here and across our industry.”

As much as anyone, Loomis has embodied the ideal of an old-fashioned editor: understated, but uncanny; polite, but persistent, known for saying a book was “almost” ready for publication. He worked with Angelou and other authors for decades and was especially close to Styron, who died in 2006. They became friends while attending Duke University and Loomis edited “Sophie’s Choice,” “Darkness Visible” and other Styron works.

In the 2011 memoir “Reading My Father,” daughter Alexandra Styron described Loomis and her father as a literary odd couple, the author “all untidy appetite and noisy id,” the editor a “sort of Leslie Howard figure, fair hair always meticulously groomed, his voice as gentle as his demeanor.” Alexandra Styron told the AP on Friday that her father “trusted Loomis entirely.”

Trillin, in a phone interview, called Loomis the “last link” to the old, pre-corporate Random House, when it was run by founder Bennett Cerf. Loomis, Trillin said, was the kind of editor who would “say the things you were supposed to say, like, ‘I don’t think you’re being quite clear here,’ or, ‘this contradicts what you said back there.’

“I would meet with him in his office,” Trillin added, “and he would have all these little checks in the manuscript. I would sometimes accuse him of not knowing what the checks meant, but he knew exactly what they meant.”

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