Jack G. Goellner, who during his two-decade career as director of the Johns Hopkins University Press earned it national acclaim as a powerhouse scholarly publishing house, died Friday of complications from a stroke at his Roland Park Place residence. The former Tuscany-Canterbury resident was 92.
“He occupied a handsome corner office but was one of us, having worked most of the jobs in the publishing house,” wrote Robert J. Brugger, an author and former history and regional book editor for the Johns Hopkins University Press, in an email.
“He joined the JHUP as marketing chief and then went on to serve as principal acquiring editor, working with authors and developing book budgets. Given his marketing experience (and because books sales actually do have something to do with jack/cover/design) Jack firmly but gently influenced the look of our books,” Dr. Brugger wrote. “His wife and our legendary managing editor, Barbara Lamb, kept him up with another strong suit, copy editing.”
Douglas M. Armato, who is director of the University of Minnesota Press, learned his trade working under Mr. Goellner from 1988 to 1995.
“I was working at the University of Georgia Press when Jack hired me as marketing manager at Hopkins Press. I was basically a kid,” Mr. Armato said. “But being the expert fisherman that he was, he reeled me in and got me to come to Baltimore.
“He put together a great team and it was a great group to work with. Jack was fun to work with. He was the kind of guy who thought everything through twice when it came to scheduling and plotting a book. He was the right guy for the job, plus he had a great sense of humor.”
Dr. Brugger said in a telephone interview: “Jack expected the very best from everybody and he got it. He was a real study in leadership.”
Jack Gordon Goellner, the son of German immigrants, was born and raised in Parma, Ohio. His father, Fred Goellner, was a carpenter, and his mother, Ella Goellner, was a homemaker.
After graduating from James Ford Rhodes High School in Cleveland, he earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1952 from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, where he was a magna cum laude graduate and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He obtained a master’s degree, also in English, from the University of Wisconsin.
He then served in the Army during the Korean War at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and after being discharged worked in Cleveland as a newspaper reporter and in public relations.
Mr. Goellner’s life changed after he read a book in which the character was director of the now-defunct Western Reserve University Press in Cleveland.
“Publishing is called the accidental profession. I never even knew there was such a thing as a university press,” The Sun reported in a 1995 profile.
“On a whim, he called up the university and asked to speak to the director of the press,” the newspaper observed.
“The director said: ‘I’d love to talk to you but I’m on my way to Paris with the galleys of two books, and I’m going to read them there.’ And I was hooked,” Mr. Goellner told The Sun. “I had this cockamamie vision of university press publishing being Paris, pipe smoke and afternoon sherry, and, of course, it isn’t.”
Mr. Goellner wrote six letters, and received four job offers, including one from Harvard, but at half the pay he was making in public relations.
Armed with no experience, Hopkins took a chance and hired him in 1964 as manager of sales and advertising, which today is known as marketing.
“I never worked so hard in my life,” he told the newspaper. “And at that time the press was very small.”
The Johns Hopkins University Press was established in 1878 and is America’s oldest university press, but in 1961, it was not much different from any other university press, and was a relatively small operation.
Mr. Goellner was appointed editor-in-chief in 1974 and began the transformation of the Hopkins Press from an operation that published about 25 books and six scholarly journals a year to a powerhouse university publisher. By the time of his 1995 retirement, the publisher produced 206 books and 45 scholarly journals that year.
“Jack rightly noted that university-press publishing addresses a juncture of special importance in a free and humane society — the place where academic research reaches out to fellow researchers but also to engage interested citizens or ‘general readers,’” Dr. Brugger wrote. “He spoke expansively about the excitement of such publishing. It left him every morning (or let’s say most mornings) positively eager to get to the office and get busy.”
He added: “We who worked with him of course shared that sense of mission. Jack personified the dignity and even elegance of that calling.”
In addition to publishing, Mr. Goellner ran a school that helped educate others in the ways of academic publishing.
“He was incredible,” Mr. Armato said. “He taught many at the press who went on to lead other university presses. He didn’t lecture. Jack always taught by example.”
Not only had he overseen the publication of seminal academic works, but he also branched out to include a series of self-help medical books, and enthusiastically championed regional books about Maryland history, the Chesapeake Bay and Susquehanna River, many of which Dr. Brugger edited.
Mame Warren, an editor, photographer and former curator of photos for the Maryland State Archives, is the daughter of the late legendary Maryland photographer and photo collector Marion E. Warren, whose books were published by the Hopkins Press.
“Jack was such an influential person in so many ways and he championed my father’s [Chesapeake] Bay project and kept after him to finish it. It was Jack’s compulsion that kept him inspired. He was the spirit behind so many projects and many different projects. He launched careers.”
She added: “When I was at Hopkins as director of Hopkins History Enterprises, he was my mentor and I called him Deep Throat because he knew virtually everything that was happening at Hopkins.”
Mr. Armato said: “When Jack came to the Hopkins Press it was a modest operation, but he laid the groundwork and turned it into a mammoth operation. And that is a real achievement.”
Mr. Goellner was an avid vegetable and flower gardener and enjoyed taking long daily walks. He was also an accomplished fly fisherman and tied his own flies. His favorite river to fish was Deer Creek, which meanders from Pennsylvania through Harford County and into the Susquehanna River near Conowingo Dam.
“Because I have always loved moving water, let me propose that my ashes be scattered onto a stream,” Mr. Goellner wrote in instructions to his family concerning his death.
“Deer Creek would be nice, above Jolly Acres, for I have fished joyfully there for trout and watched otters play, and below there for smallmouth, and down toward the Susquehanna for shad, and in the big river for striped bass, and soon down through the Chesapeake Bay on the currents of memory until finally in to the ocean itself, which is perhaps as close as any of us can come to being one with the universe.”
He was a communicant of the First English Lutheran Church in Guilford.
Plans for a memorial celebration of Mr. Goellner’s life are incomplete.
In addition to his wife of 38 years, Mr. Goellner is survived by a son, Michael Goellner of St. Michaels; three daughters, Kirsten Oeste of Towson, and Katherine Reed and Ellen Goellner, both of Montclair, New Jersey; a stepson, Paul Bentley of Hamilton; a stepdaughter, Marion Bentley of Towson; a brother, Allan Goellner of Strongsville, Ohio; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. An earlier marriage to Sarah Williams ended in divorce.