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.
Published in The Advocate on Jan. 18, 2009.