July 15, 2010


My father died one year ago today.

Photo: Dad at his home editing desk

Being the son of this man who had written and edited for newspapers, magazines, and books—and having inherited his perfectionism—I didn’t let the funeral home write the obituary. After draft upon inadequate draft, I compacted his c.v. down to a dense brick of places and dates.

ROWLAND George Alexander, of Englewood and Park Ridge, died peacefully on July 15, 2009, in Royersford, PA, age 79. Born 1929 in Englewood to George and Marguerite Rosenwald. Dwight Morrow HS class of 1947. Bloomfield College 1950-53. US Army 1953-56, SSgt, Ft. Chaffee, AR. Bloomfield College BA English, 1957. Princeton Theological Seminary 1957-58. Editor, Prentice Hall. Editing Supervisor, McGraw-Hill. Managing Editor, Professional Books Div., Macmillan. Freelance editor, writer. Predeceased by brother Frank in 1985. Survived by sisters Marguerite, Florence, and Georgia, brother Charles, son Christopher, grandsons Jen and Kels. Contact: chris@zm.org

Unsatisfyingly terse, but I had to stick to facts or I’d have been writing and rewriting for (even more) weeks, casting about for the sweet spot between clinical and sentimental. How do you reduce a lifetime to a paragraph? The point, I figured, was to print a photo and just enough detail so an acquaintance reading the obituaries would say, “Hey, I knew that guy.”

When I submitted the obit to my dad’s home paper, the Bergen Record, I mentioned that he had occasionally written for the Record. The editor forwarded the obit to the news desk, and a staff reporter called and interviewed me for a “news obituary.” Very nice guy. We spoke for an hour, after which he distilled my ramblings into an article that would have made Dad proud.

Noted book editor George A. Rowland dead at 79

Friday, August 14, 2009
The Record

George A. Rowland, a longtime Park Ridge resident who blazed a successful career in publishing after considering the ministry, died last month in Royersford, Pa. He was 79.

Mr. Rowland’s career as a book editor—first at Prentice-Hall and McGraw-Hill, then for many years at Macmillan—grew out of a lifelong love for words and a facility with the English language.

Mr. Rowland was born in Englewood. His classmates at Dwight Morrow High School and at Bloomfield College acted in productions of plays that he wrote, his son Christopher said Thursday.

He also wrote poetry for his own amusement and drew fanciful cartoons that emulated the style of the syndicated cartoonist Jules Feiffer.

Christopher Rowland said his father often would draw cartoons on the brown lunch bags that he took to school—”sort of Buck Rogers-type of figures, or little cartoons of me in school,” he said. “Cartoons of how extremely tall I was suddenly, towering over him.”

Mr. Rowland’s tenure at Bloomfield College was interrupted by a three-year stint in the Army, coinciding with the end of the Korean War. He was not deployed overseas, and was honorably discharged in 1956 as a staff sergeant. He returned to Bloomfield College, graduating with a degree in English in 1957.

He enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary with a plan of entering the ministry in the Presbyterian Church. A gifted tenor, he toured nationally with the seminary’s choir, but withdrew from the school after a “crisis of faith” convinced him that the ministry wasn’t his calling, his son said.

Instead, he traveled to Chicago, where he studied at the American Academy of Art and at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Together Magazine, published by the United Methodist Publishing House, offered Mr. Rowland his first editing job, his son said.

Mr. Rowland returned to New Jersey in the early 1960s. He parlayed a manuscript editing job at Prentice Hall into a job as an editing supervisor at McGraw-Hill. From there, he moved on to Macmillan, where he served as a senior editing supervisor and managing editor of its professional books division. He worked for Macmillan on a freelance basis for many years after his retirement in 1986.

“The one thing that I most treasure in my influence from my father is his love of language, his love of words,” Christopher Rowland said.

Mr. Rowland died July 15. His older brother, Frank, died in 1985. In addition to his son, of Browns Mills, Mr. Rowland is survived by his sisters Florence, of Southern Pines, N.C., and Marguerite and Georgia, both of Lansdale, Pa.; a brother, Charles, of Modesto, Calif.; and two grandsons.

Mr. Rowland’s body was cremated. Plans for a memorial service were incomplete on Thursday.

Dad would have laughed: “Noted book editor.” Editors are never “noted.” It’s a wink from an editor at the Record, who noted him by fiat—a tribute from an admiring peer.

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