Peter Workman, 10/19/1938-4/7/2013

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Peter Workman

It is with great sadness that Workman Publishing Company announces the death of its founder, Peter Workman, at the age of 74 from cancer. He died on April 7, 2013, at home in New York.

He leaves his wife of fifty-one years, Carolan Raskin Workman; their two daughters, Katie and Elizabeth; their sons-in-law, Gary Freilich and Mark Williams; and four grandchildren: Jack, Charlie, Madeline, and Charlotte.

He was, in so many ways, an extraordinary man.

He was the founder, president and CEO of Workman Publishing Company, one of the largest independent publishers of nonfiction trade books and calendars. In addition to the Workman imprint, the company consists of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Artisan, Storey Books, Timber Press, and HighBridge Audio. He served on the board of the Goddard-Riverside Community Center and the board of Prep-for-Prep; he was a member of the Publishing Committee of UJA-Federation of New York and chairman of the Board of Governors of Yale University Press. Peter was a generous supporter of the Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, and the Anti-Defamation League, among many organizations. In honor of his late brother he developed the David Workman Grant Program at Deerfield Academy, a charity to help students fund and implement their own humanitarian projects. His love of music and art prompted his support of the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

He was a passionate golfer and skier and a keen poker player, and he took great pleasure in the company of friends, colleagues, and family.

Born in Great Neck, Long Island, on October 19, 1938, to Jeanette and Bernard Workman, Peter graduated from Deerfield Academy and Yale University. After a stint in the sales department of Dell Publishing, he founded Workman Publishing Company as a book packager in 1967, and within two years published its inaugural list leading with Richard Hittleman’s Yoga 28-Day Exercise Plan, a title that is still in print.

His vision and drive grew Workman into a wholly unique and fiercely independent book publisher. Among its iconic bestsellers are B. Kliban’s Cat, The Official Preppy Handbook, The Silver Palate Cookbook, What to Expect® When You’re Expecting, Brain Quest®, Sandra Boynton’s children’s books, and 1,000 Places To See Before You Die®. Also a trendsetter in the calendar business, Workman invented the groundbreaking boxed Page-A-Day® Calendar.

In 1989, Workman Publishing acquired the southern literary publisher Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, known for discovering new writers such as Julia Alvarez and Jill McCorkle, who have been with Algonquin from the beginning of their careers. Its recent bestsellers include Water for Elephants, A Reliable Wife, and the Bellwether Prize-winners Mudbound and The Girl Who Fell from the Sky.

And in 1994, Workman launched Artisan, a publisher known for finely produced, illustrated books, including The French Laundry Cookbook and other cookbooks by Thomas Keller, David Tanis, Frank Stitt, and Lucinda Scala Quinn; The Medal of Honor; and Design*Sponge.

Other Workman companies include Storey Publishing, based in North Adams, MA, which was acquired in 2001 and has been publishing books for the “backyard homesteader” before that was a phrase or trend; Timber Press, a leader in the gardening field; and HighBridge Audio, the Minneapolis audiobook publisher of bestselling fiction and nonfiction titles. Workman also handles distribution for Black Dog & Leventhal, Greenwich Workshop Press, and The Experiment.

Peter was moved by the beauty and expanse of nature—Yosemite, Zermatt, Patagonia, the heaths of Scotland. He was a man driven by big, innovative thoughts. And yet, when it came to bookmaking, he paid attention to the smallest detail: the size of a folio, the use of an ampersand, the quality of paper. A visionary, an inspirational leader, and true friend, Peter will be deeply missed.

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20 Comments

  1. Deborah Broide  •  Apr 7, 2013 @10:28 pm

    I had the good fortune to work for Peter in the mid 80’s (eventually as his publicity director. I launched the “”What to Expect” series). Peter was, of course, a genius, but he was also truly enthusiastic about every book he published. He was exacting, but supportive of his employees. To this day, I consider him one of my mentors. I would not have a career without Peter. His door was always open to his employees too – he wanted to hear what we had to say. The word, “legend” is often misused, but in this case it’s apt — Peter wawas a publishing legend. Deepest condolences to Carolan, Katie, Elizabeth and his entire family.

  2. Joe Piscatella  •  Apr 7, 2013 @11:06 pm

    I was sitting in my home office in the fall of 1982 when the telephone rang and a voice introduced himself as Peter Workman. He was calling, out of the blue, to ask about publishing my first book, “Don’t Eat Your Heart Out.” By the time our conversation was finished, I was a Workman author. And now, some 31 years later, because of Peter, I still am.

    As everyone knows, Peter was indeed a publishing genius. His fingerprints are on every book I’ve done. But he was so much more as well…a kind, decent and generous man, a good friend. I will miss him very much.

    My thoughts and prayers are with Carolan, Katie, Elizabeth and the family, and with the Workman Company family as well.

  3. Sophie Blackall  •  Apr 7, 2013 @11:59 pm

    I am so very sad to read this news. Peter was a kind and funny man; serious about books, not so serious about himself. He seemed to be simultaneously old school, while open to everything new. My thoughts are with you all.

  4. Sharon Lovejoy  •  Apr 8, 2013 @1:37 am

    Peter left a wake of good and beauty behind him. I don’t think I will ever be able to imagine him away from his Workman office. Peter had an abiding love for his profession and an artist’s eye with everything that he produced. From the smallest project to a huge series of books. He saw every aspect of publishing in a different way and he tweaked and tweaked, sometimes to our chagrin, but he had an unerring sense of style and creativity.

    Peter changed my life in so many ways. I remember the day he said he would like to do some of my books. On that morning in his office, I dumped a lunchbox full of red earthworms on his table. He didn’t flinch, “Oh, you brought your “Girls” he said casually.

    One night when we were walking to a dinner celebration, Peter was in the middle of a sentence when he saw a man sitting on the sidewalk. Peter stopped, bent over the man and said something to him, then emptied his pocket of cash.

    I hope he knew how deeply we all cared for him.

    To Carolan and Katie, Elizabeth and sons-in-law and grandchildren, and all the zany, creative staff at Workman, we send a heart full of love. Sharon Lovejoy and Jeff Prostovich

  5. Nicholas Boothman  •  Apr 8, 2013 @6:51 am

    Peter Workman brought great joy to this planet. Every single encounter with Peter left me at least one step higher on the ladder of life. His work had the same effect on millions of people around the world.

    Our thoughts and prayers are with Carolan, Katie, Elizabeth and the whole Workman family.

  6. Karen  •  Apr 8, 2013 @8:37 am

    God be with Peter’s family. It sounds as if MANY people will miss his influence, his love for the printed word.

  7. Debbie Stoller  •  Apr 8, 2013 @8:37 am

    Peter completely changed my life when he decided to publish my book, wisely titling it “Stitch ‘n Bitch” instead of my choice: “Take Back the Knit.” He was wonderfully savvy, smart, and very kind, and my thoughts are with his family at this very difficult time.

  8. ANGEL DOMINGUEZ  •  Apr 8, 2013 @10:41 am

    What a pity, my condolences to all.
    I did with you THE BOOK OF MY LIFE: Alice´s Adventures in Wonderland.

    Sad,
    Angel Dominguez

  9. Julie Salamon  •  Apr 8, 2013 @11:21 am

    Like millions of others, I first came to Workman Publishing when I was pregnant and turned for advice and comfort to What to Expect…. Years later I had the privilege of being a Workman author with Rambam’s Ladder, a book about generosity and giving. The book resulted in many wonderful experiences, chief among them the chance to meet Peter Workman, who was a gifted publisher and exceptional human being, a memorable character and a true mensch. With deep appreciation and heartfelt condolences to his family.

  10. Susan Branch  •  Apr 8, 2013 @12:00 pm

    I contacted Peter Workman out of the blue back in 1986, seeking advice about a book I was working on. He took my call (which almost shocked me into stupefaction) and went out of his way to help me, accepting several more phone calls and giving me much needed and appreciated counsel. I have never forgotten his generosity, and I wanted to express my gratitude and my sadness at the shocking news today. Susan Branch

  11. Annie Brody  •  Apr 8, 2013 @12:19 pm

    As a former Workman employee, agent and author, I will always be grateful that Peter Workman was my professional mentor and friend. He ‘taught’ by example: Trust your instincts, be curious, look for opportunity and pursue your interests with gusto. You didn’t look to a P&L Statement to determine if a book idea was worthy of being published. What was critical was that the idea be fresh and offer real value and that it be championed by an author with a passionate interest. I learned so much that has become the centerpiece of my professional life from observing Peter in action. His sense of fairness and loyalty showed me that the best formula for success was really caring about what you did and seeing the big picture of how that fit into the world. He may be gone from the physical world but his spirit and legacy endures through so many lives and books that he helped shape.

  12. Dan Kainen  •  Apr 8, 2013 @12:36 pm

    I met Peter only a couple of times when my book was first being discussed at his company. One could see at once that he was thoughtful and kind, but I was surprised to find, in the course of negotiating the contract, that he had raised the European royalty for my book by half again as much, simply because I had asked a question about it – I had not really complained.
    Clearly, Peter’s influence is felt all through the company; every single person I have met there has not only been very good at their jobs, but also has done so with an upbeat courtesy and respect. It is no wonder that Workman enjoys the reputation it does for how well it treats its authors. 
    My heartfelt condolences to all his family and everyone there at Workman. 
    Dan Kainen

  13. Megan Frost  •  Apr 8, 2013 @12:57 pm

    I had the privilege of meeting Peter and his colleagues in 2006 for lunch about a potential project. He was a warm gentleman, and as so many others have said here, was instantly comfortable and familiar. His friendly personality immediately put me at ease – he was a smart man, with sharp instincts, that lead to many years of successful products. He commanded great respect from his colleagues, and was the heart of Workman Publishing. I’m proud to have known him and to have witnessed his entrepreneurial leadership.

  14. Marsha Coupé  •  Apr 8, 2013 @3:08 pm

    So very many books I have admired and enjoyed were published by Mr. Workman and Company. You can recognize a Workman book, the moment you step into a crowded bookstore, or cafe. They are books from a man who greatly cared about books and the people making them. This is a wonderful legacy to leave.

    My heartfelt condolences to Mr. Workman’s family, employees and friends.

  15. Bill Abrams  •  Apr 8, 2013 @3:34 pm

    I met Peter in 2001 when Workman published my wife Julie Salamon’s book, Rambam’s Ladder (see above). But hewas only a passing acquaintance until 2005, when I went to work for Trickle Up, an international poverty agency that was fortunate to count Peter as one of donors.

    Among the many causes he supported, the one closest to his heart was David Workman Grant Program at their alma mater Deerfield Academy. In memory of his brother, Peter established the program to help students fund and implement their own humanitarian projects.

    In October 2007, Peter invited me to come with him to Deerfield to meet with the students, talk about Trickle Up and perhaps inspire one or more to make service an important part of their lives. It was a three-hour drive each way. I was a bit nervous about spending that much time with someone who had been only a casual acquaintance. The ride turned out to be a most memorable day, which he extended towards the end of the trip as we approached City Island. Unexpectedly, he pulled toward the exit lane and asked, “Want to stop for a lobster and a beer?” Even after hearing my presentation to his students and a lot of conversation during the ride to and from Deerfield, he spent most of our meal asking about Trickle Up and talking about public service.

    Trickle Up is fortunate to have people like Peter join us in our work, and I was privileged to have known him for over a decade, especially that one day in October 2007.

  16. Pat England  •  Apr 8, 2013 @4:29 pm

    I worked for Workman Publishing from 1980-1984. It was a wonderful experience. The last time I saw him we were sitting on a chair lift at a ski resort talking about the new location of Workman having recently moved from 39th Street to downtown Broadway. I just saw an announcement that Peter had passed away yesterday and it shocked me. I pictured him running Workman for many, many years to come. And, in spirit, he will!

    My condolences to his entire family and most especially to Carolan.

  17. Allia Zobel Nolan  •  Apr 8, 2013 @4:43 pm

    When Peter Workman called me to say he would like to publish my first book, THE JOY OF BEING SINGLE,, you could hear my scream in Parsippany. And last year, it celebrated twenty years in print. That’s the staying power of a Workman title, as tribute to the man and the house. He was always very very kind to me. And only once was a little off base when he said, “Allia, cats are old hat….they’ve had their run.” Needless to say, he changed his mind with several bestselling cat books. All I can say is I owe my career to him and will miss him tremendously. RIP, Peter.

  18. Allia Zobel Nolan  •  Apr 8, 2013 @4:44 pm

    P.S. My condolences to his wife, family, an co-workers.

  19. Dan Dye  •  Apr 8, 2013 @7:26 pm

    Peter Workman was truly one of a kind, a legend in an industry filled with “legends”. He stepped up quickly to buy the rights to my book “Amazing Gracie, A Dog’s Tale”. Even though he was not the highest bidder for the book, my agent, Tanya McKinnon, (who was with Mary Evans, Inc. at the time) assured me that going with Workman would end up being the right decision. Man, was she ever right! Peter Workman made me feel like I was his most important client, and my book his most important project. I suppose that was just one of his many gifts – the ability to make us all feel special. I admired him for remaining independent, especially during the years of publishing house consolidation and acquisitions. God speed on your journey, Peter…you will be missed. A great man indeed.

  20. Mary Jane Pories  •  Apr 8, 2013 @10:28 pm

    The news of Peter’s death is sad for anyone who loves books, cares that things are done right, and seeks to live life to the fullest. Although I never had the honor of meeting him,my sister Kathy Pories, an editor at Algonquin, always spoke of him with greatest respect. I know she thoroughly enjoyed working with him and doing her best to carry out his vision for the company. I am saddened for her, the rest of the staff, his family and, of course, for all of us who cherish good work and a good read.

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