L.E. "Les" Phillabaum
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Les Phillabaum, bookman, was born in Cortland, N.Y., on June 1, 1936, to Vern and Beatrice Phillabaum. He died at his home in Baton Rouge on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009. Much of Les' life was devoted to scholarly publishing. After receiving his undergraduate degree in business administration and a master's degree in English from the Pennsylvania State University, he began his publishing career as a manuscript editor with the Penn State Press. In 1963, he was appointed editor-in-chief of the University of North Carolina Press in Chapel Hill, N.C. In 1970, he was brought to Baton Rouge as executive editor and associate director of the LSU Press, beginning a 33-year association. He was named director of the press in 1975 and retired in February of 2003; the LSU Board of Supervisors approved his appointment as Director Emeritus of the LSU Press upon his retirement. In 2005, the LSU Press established the L.E. Phillabaum Poetry Award to honor Les and his commitment to poetry publishing. Also in 2005, Les was honored by the Fellowship of Southern Writers, when he was inducted as an honorary member. In an article written by Peter Taylor for the Hollins Critic, Taylor quotes author Louis Rubin's citation: "Under his leadership, LSU has not only chosen, as a matter of principle, roads that have been less traveled by, but has blazed a trail or two of its own. Its books have won awards - Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award - and some have been highly successful commercially, but it is the books that he has published that others would not and the literary careers that he has made possible, that most of all make his name a benchmark in Southern letters. Les Phillabaum has been useful - indeed, essential; and of how many of us can that be said so aptly and so readily? He is an ornament to his profession, to his university, and to the South, and in conferring on him an honorary membership in our Fellowship, we honor ourselves." Les was very active in professional activities, serving on the board of directors of the American Association of University Presses, serving as president for 1984-1985. He loved the LSU Press and considered its staff members family. During his retirement he served as an occasional consultant and was proud of the work that was continuing under Director MaryKatherine Calloway. Most people will probably always associate him with the publication of "A Confederacy of Dunces." Les is survived by his wife of 46 years, Robbie; two children, daughter, Diane Phillabaum Setzer and her husband, David, of Jackson, Miss., and son, Dr. Scott Phillabaum and his wife, Dr. Priya Abeywickrama, of San Francisco; two grandchildren, Trey and Stephen Setzer; a brother, Dr. Corliss Phillabaum and his wife, Katja, of Milwaukee, and their two children, Tanith Korravai and Lawrence Phillabaum; and several cousins. In his personal life Les loved music, ranging from Frank Sinatra to Puccini; reading - his bedside table always included at least six books (one a British mystery) being read concurrently as well as the New York Review of Books and the New York Times Book Review - gardening; following baseball, especially the St Louis Cardinals; painting and drawing; and collecting comic strips. He enjoyed most being with his family, of whom he was so proud. He relished each family visit and beach trips to Pensacola Beach. He especially enjoyed watching his grandsons grow up and frequently attended their soccer and baseball games. Contemporaries have described Les as a man of quiet modesty, great kindness and powerful intelligence. "In all his life unto no manner wight, He was a very perfect gentle knight," (Prologue to the Canterbury Tales). A memorial service and celebration of his life will be held at University Presbyterian Church, 3240 Dalrymple Drive, on Monday, Jan. 19, with visitation from 1 p.m. until service at 3 p.m. Instead of flowers, donations may be made to the LSU Press or the LSU Libraries. Arrangements by Rabenhorst Funeral Home, 825 Government St.

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Published in The Advocate on Jan. 18, 2009.
Memories & Condolences
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74 entries
January 31, 2019
Phillabaum was a wonderful man, a gentleman, and always gentle to those of us who were a little bit scared of his knowledge and wisdom.
Kelly Cherry
June 11, 2009
June 11th
I am sorry for this late entry, but I owe a special debt of gratitude to Mr. Philabaum for publishing my first book, "The War Everyone Lost--And Won."
I remember meeting with him about my submission. He asked me directly if it was my dissertation, when, in my cover letter I had attempted to shield the manuscript from this "epithet." I had to admit it was. His only response was "well it had better be a good one," and took the manuscript out of the box. I will always thank him for this "exception." He was truly a class act in the scholarly profession!
Timothy Lomperis
February 3, 2009
Book lovers everywhere have lost a good friend in Les Phillabaum. He leaves a rich legacy to us all.

Ann Dobie
Ann Dobie
February 3, 2009
Thank You, Janet, for passing along the Notice of Les Phillabaum. He was a very noted man. How nice to have such a distinguished cousin. He lived a very full and honored life.
Jack and I send our respect and love to the family.
Jack, Yvonne Spaans
February 2, 2009
Thank you, Phil, for all your support, and for that special phone call.
Steve Sandy
January 30, 2009
My only real-time meeting with Les was at the San Francisco ABA in the early 1980s. I do know, though, that the warmth he extended went out to all of the LSU Press writers on his editorial list. He did whatever he could to promote and keep our books alive.
-- Al Young
(THE BLUES DON'T CHANGE, New & Selected Poems, 1982)
Al Young
January 29, 2009
Dear Family of Les,
So sorry for your loss. I am a cousin of Les whom you hear from at the Guyer reunion time. Les's Grandmother Clara (Guyer) Phillabaum and My Grandmother Verna (Guyer) Robbins were sisters.
Cousin Dean Phillabaum helps me with the Family Geanology, and notified me of Les's death. I dug on line until I found this sight and am so thankful for the beautiful Obit. I have copied it and added it to my large genealogy library. I am also sending it to several distant cousins.
I pray that your many fond memories will be a great comfort to each of you. Just know I care and love you.
Janet Irene (Robbins) Pattee
Janet Pattee
January 27, 2009
I am deeply saddened by news of Les Phillabaum's death. I had not seen him for several years and very much missed his absence from the historical conventions. A fine editor with a broad appreciation of historical expression, he will be missed.
Leon Litwack
January 25, 2009
Deborah George (fka Hardy)
January 24, 2009
My condolences to all who knew Les better than I did--though I am among the many grateful poets whose lives and work were made richer for his love of poetry and his care in shepherding our work into the world. Peace to all who mourn his passing, as do I.
Alison Deming
January 24, 2009
Among my most rewarding moments at LSU was working with Les on the Publication Cokmmitee..
Charles Bigger
January 23, 2009
I am sorry to hear this sad news. Though I never met Mr. Phillabaum, I feel I did -- not only through my lucky opportunity to publish my two books of poems with LSU Press, but also through the years, through the wonderful books of poetry he shepherded into the world. My sincere sympathies to his family and to all you fine people at LSU. --
Jan Heller Levi
January 22, 2009
Les Phillabaum was a fine gentleman, a pleasure to work with, and an asset to LSU and to university publishing.
James Grimshaw
January 22, 2009
In 1981, Mr Phillabaum published The Presidency in the Constitutional Order, edited by two very young and unknown scholars -- Joe Bessette and me, Jeff Tulis. I will always be grateful and send my condolences to his family and friends.
Jeffrey Tulis
January 22, 2009
Les was in our wedding party when Barbara and I got married two days after graduation from Penn State in 1958. Even though we have not seen each other since graduation, we have kept in touch with Christmas Letters. In the most current letter, I was pleased to see that he was enjoying gardening so much.
Alan Jones
January 22, 2009
I am sorry to learn of Les Phillabaum's death. My condolences to family, colleagues, and friends. My first novel was published by LSUP in conjunction with the Mobil Pagasus award (for New Zealand/Maori literature), before it won other prizes, and I was - and am- very proud of that fact.
Keri Hulme
January 21, 2009
Les published my first book, SHADOW OVER THE PROMISED LAND. I will always be grateful for his support at the beginning of my scholarly career.
Carolyn Karcher
January 21, 2009
Sad loss. One of the giants in the world of academic publishing. In addition to being a fine publisher, he was a fine person. He will be missed.

Larry Powell
Lawrence N. Powell
January 21, 2009
Lawrence N. Powell
January 21, 2009
Al Young
January 21, 2009
As a former LSU Press staff member, I have always viewed my years under Les’s direction as absolutely one of my finest experiences. My heartfelt sympathy to his loved ones.
Susan Highleyman Aaron
January 21, 2009
I think of Les, without hesitation, as the best director of a university press of our generation.
Ronald Moran
January 21, 2009
When I was much younger Les treated me like I was much older. He was kind and decent and engaged, the sort of folk you hope to meet in publishing and life.
Randy Roberts
January 21, 2009
My sincere condolences to the family. Les was my long-time friend and a true gentleman in every respect.
William Scarborough
January 21, 2009
A champion of poetry and a legendary publisher has passed on, leaving our world of letters poorer for the loss.
Barbara Ras
January 21, 2009
Working with Les over the years was a pleasure, and seeing and talking with him at conferences was always a highlight of those events. He was indeed a gentleman among publishers, one of the kindest of men.
Fred Hobson
January 21, 2009
Les was an important and greatly admired person in my life. I was honored to have him publish eight of my books, and he was my model to follow when I founded the University of Arkansas Press. He'll stay in my head and heart.
Miller Williams
January 21, 2009
Les was a fine person and a real genrltman. The LSU Press family has suffered a great loss.
Judith Schafer
January 21, 2009
I will never forget my first meeting with Les back in 1991, showing slides of Shreveport at his desk and, when I had finished, immediately being asked what title I wanted to give to my book. I was shocked at the speed he gave me my first photography book contract.

What a pleasure and honor it was to work with Les! Always the friend. Always the gentleman. Always the caring leader. Always the professional. Les will be missed.
Neil Johnson
January 21, 2009
Les, you ran the top poetry shop. I know because I was published by four others before you accepted my work, and afterwards I knew I had found the publisher a poet was lucky to have. God bless you.
Brendan Galvin
January 21, 2009
Les Phillabaum was a great editor. We have lost a good friend as well as a publisher who had the courage of his conviction that poetry is essential to our culture. The poets whom he published and whose careers he made possible are in a real sense his extended family. To his wife, children, and theirs, my sympathy, and the hope that their knowing how deeply Les is missed by so many will to some degree assuage their sense of loss.
Dan Hoffman
January 21, 2009
My sincere condolences to my friends at LSU Press and to the family of Les Phillabaum in these sad days of his untimely departure
Bobby Braddock
January 21, 2009
I will always appreciate Les's help in publishing and promoting my book and databases about Africans and their descendants in Louisiana
Gwendolyn Hall
January 21, 2009
John Hamilton
January 21, 2009
Les was one of the people who guided the publication of my first book with LSU Press in 1975. He was an understanding mentor for a then young scholar new to academic publishing and a good friend for over thirty years.
Edward F. Haas
January 21, 2009
Les was not only a great publisher, he was also a good friend who would talk to an author in a straight forward, constructive manner. I will always be grateful to Les and LSU Press for revitalizing my career. Like everyone who had the honor and pleasure of working with him and being his friend, I will miss him.
Christine Wiltz
January 21, 2009
Les Phillabaum was an irreplaceable editor. Although I did not know him personally, I, like so many others, will certainly feel the loss of his talent and intelligence.
Sarah Kennedy
January 21, 2009
I cannot tally everything that Les did for me and meant to me. It was always such a treat to see him at SAMLA, since both his literacy and his courtesy far surpassed those of most people in publishing (or anywhere else).
William Harmon
January 21, 2009
Les was one of the truly great princes of the university press establishment. His range of interests was instrumental in placing LSU Press among the top publishers in the fields of history, especially Southern history, and American literature.
Bertram Wyattt-Brown
January 21, 2009
I met Les only once, and was grateful for the opportunity to thank him for publishing so many great books of poetry. His spirit will live a long time in books whose long life he made possible.
Daniel Mark Epstein
January 21, 2009
Always a true gentleman, Les was invariably cordial. He did much to encourage my own career, and I will always be thankful that I had the opportunity to know him.
Bob May
January 21, 2009
The loss of Les Phillabaum is extremely difficult to bear. Our lives as writers and recipients of his benevolent attention are diminished, as is the entire American publishing scene. He was our friend and our champion.
David Slavitt
January 21, 2009
This is sad news for anyone who had the pleasure of knowing and working with Les. I will always be indebted to him for his commitment to poetry and his engagement with poets. And not just LSU poets. Thanks to Les, I was able to start a small poetry series that LSU distributes--truly a selfless commitment on his part. I am grateful, especially, to have had the benefit of his generous and keen eye and ear for poems.
Susan Ludvigson
January 21, 2009
From the beginning I appreciated Les Phillabaum's straightforward answers to questions and his independent mind. As my experience with publishing broadened, so did my appreciation of Mr. Phillabuam's kindness and his considerate treatment of writers. I developed enormous respect for his taste, intellect, and his willingness to follow new paths. I loved my experiences with LSU Press, largely because of Mr. Phillabuam and the people he put in place there.
Christina Vella
January 21, 2009
To Les Phillabaum's family
It was my pleasure to have my first book published at LSU Press with Les. The experience was rewarding and enlightening.

Thomas Schoonover, Segrera Prof. emeritus, ULL, Lafayette, LA
January 21, 2009
Les Phillabaum was a champion of poetry in America who can never be replaced. I like many others owe him a giant debt of gratitude.
Cathryn Hankla
January 21, 2009
Les was such a gentle person, smart, perceptive, encouraging, and calming. I know all his authors will miss him as much as I do, and I am sure everyone who worked for him at the Press is greatly grieving. To Robbie: We share your loss. His memory will always be part of poetry's history.
Kelly Cherry
January 21, 2009
I will always be so grateful for Les Phillabaum's encouragement, support, and wise counsel---and I am only one of the many, many writers he helped throughout the years. He was a writer's publisher, a publisher of the old school----a class act.---Lee Smith
Lee Smith
January 21, 2009
My deepest condolences--Les was a pleasure to work with and for. To me, that word "bookman"--which leads his obituary--is the highest and most significant tribute. There are few to whom it could be applied more meaningfully, or with more admiration and gratitude.
Michael Griffith
January 21, 2009
Les ran a great press and I will always be grateful to him for giving me my start as a fiction writer. He'll be missed.
Steve Yarbrough
January 21, 2009
Heartfelt condolences to Robbie and the Phillabaum family, and to the LSU Press family. Les was a warm, gentle, wise, and humorous man. I treasure his memory, and am thankful to have had the opportunity to know him.
Marilyn Nelson
January 21, 2009
Les was the editor of my first book. It is hard to think of LSU Press without him.
Condolences to his family and many friends.
ronald spector
January 21, 2009
Les was a person of considerable talent who always seem to be there with helpful advice as we struggled to understand the mysteries of publishing
Richard Blackett
January 21, 2009
To the Phillabaum Family: I am so sorry for your loss. I will always remember Les fondly and with great respect. He was head of the Press when it published my first book.....a true gentleman and a scholar who treated me in a kind and courteous manner.
Mary Manhein
January 21, 2009
Les Phillabaum was always a joy to work with. I'll miss his judgment, his skill, his can-do spirit, and his kindness.
John Burt
January 21, 2009
Dear Robbie,
Sorry to hear about Les. He was a great friend, great Acacian and a real asset to Penn State.
You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.
Sam Kurtz
January 21, 2009
My heart goes out to you and your family at this extremely difficult time.
Susan Hamilton
January 19, 2009
Dear Robbie,

Michael, Hayley and I are so sorry for your terrible loss. Les was an amazing and exceptional man. He will be sadly missed. We're so sorry we could not make it to the services today, but know our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.
We'll see you soon and please let us know if there's anything we can do.

Denise Westphal
Denise Westphal
January 19, 2009
Les and I went into Army Counterintelligence at the same time and trained together at Ft Holabird in Baltimore. My wife and I enjoyed visiting Robbie and him when I occasionally worked in Baton Rouge in the early 90's. He will be missed.
Roy Rossman
January 19, 2009
To the Phillabaum family:
You have my deep and heartfelt sympathy. Les was a valued colleague when we were both employed at LSU. He has returned to his Maker who created him.
Huel D. Perkins
Huel Perkins
January 19, 2009
Robbie and Family:
Les was my big brother at Acacia Fraternity and as such had a very positive impact on me and my future. He was always very supportive and willing to give of his time and talents to help this poor little farm boy get thru the rigors of a big college and a new lifestyle. We will all miss him.

Vern (Bunny) Myers
Bunny Myers
January 19, 2009
Les was one year ahead of me.I do remember his "quiet' intelligence! Don Tinsman was my big brother...so Don's friendship with Les rubbed off on me.
May God bless all of his family & loving wife Robbie.
Rev. Lauren B. Meiswinkel(1959)
Lauren Meiswinkel
January 18, 2009
I have great memories of Mr. Phillabaum and his cars, from days at Gordon and Sandifer Auto Service
Winston LaPrarie
January 18, 2009
We all will miss you. Fraternally, Don Clagett '61
Donald Clagett
January 18, 2009
Les was one class ahead of me at Penn State Acacia Fraternity. He helped select and educate a class of brothers that has maintained ties for fifty years. We also are his legacy on this earth.
Joe Patton
January 18, 2009
Les was my "Big Brother" at Acacia after I failed to make my average to become a brother with his pledgeclass. He was a great friend and I am sorry we lost each other over the years after graduation.
Don (Taz) Tinsman
January 18, 2009
Robbie, children, grandchildren and family

Sorry on the passing of Mr. Les.
He will be missed by all who knew him. God Bless all of you during this time.

I remember Robbie and her talking about her beloved Mr. Les, during my time with City National Bank, Staring Lane.
Dianne Goings Melchior
January 18, 2009
Les was a great professional. I knew him at Acacia at PSU and always admired him. I had lost track and didnt know your home was Baton Rogue. I am so sorry for your great loss.
Bill Farrell
January 17, 2009
Mrs. Robbie,

Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. We love you.

Sonya and Brad Blanchard
Sonya Blanchard
January 17, 2009
My sympathy to the Phillabaum family

One memory of Les from Acacia at PSU was his statement that "one is rewarded by the responsibility he carries". Les achieved great rewards
which is testament to his love of family, his achievements and recognition from LSU and his professional community.

You are in my thoughts, Les will be missed.

Chick King Acacia PSU 1960
Chick King
January 17, 2009
How I wish I had known that Les was a visitor to Pensacola Beach. It would have been very nice to visit with him and his family as we live nearby in Lillian, AL. Acacia - PSU
Wallace Hodge
January 17, 2009
So sorry for your loss. I have wonderful memories of our days at Penn State Acacia Fraternity.
Robert (Bob) Shaw
January 17, 2009
I have great memories of Mr.Phillabaum and his cars.
He was a great cust. at
Gordon and Sandifer Serv, Inc.
My prayers are with you.
Winston LaPrarie
January 17, 2009
Miss Robbie and Family,
Words can not express how deeply I love you nor how sorry I am for your pain. You and Les has such an encouraging relationship. You seem to have strength of support and independence. It was a great balance and a wonderful example.
Prayers are with you all,
Mary Day
Mary Day
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