Richard W. Jackson, a children’s and young adult book editor who championed the work of author Judy Blume and later wrote his own books, died of multiple myeloma Oct. 2 at the Blakehurst Retirement Community in Towson, where he lived. He was 84.
Born in Detroit and raised in Grosse Pointe Farms, he was the son of Richard Webber Jackson Sr., a Hudson Motor Car Co. executive, and Margaret Keena Jackson Gillis, a board member of the Detroit Institute of Arts.
He was a graduate of the Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned a degree in drama at Yale University. Mr. Jackson called himself a “dreamy boy” and enjoyed entertaining friends with magic.
He joined the Army and trained as a machine-gunner at Fort Benning, Georgia.
“He became a speechwriter for his commanding officer,” said his wife, Nancy Fiske. “He was scheduled to go to Germany and his superiors extracted him for that assignment."
Mr. Jackson tried theater after leaving the military and co-produced an off-Broadway play that ran six weeks. He changed careers and attended New York University’s Graduate Institute of Book Publishing and signed up at Doubleday Books.
Mr. Jackson recalled that his first editorial assignment was making an index for “D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths.” In 1968 he joined another editor, Robert Verrone, to co-found Bradbury Press.
They published the work of authors Paula Fox and Arnold Lobel. They later brought in authors Avi, Judy Blume, Diane Goode, Susan Jeffers and Cynthia Rylant and illustrator Rosemary Wells.
“Being a father himself, he knew that children wanted to go farther in their reading than what was around then,” said his wife. “He had a sense that what children were experiencing in their lives.”
He published Judy Blume, the author of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” Ms. Blume went on to be the 1996 winner of the American Library Association’s Margaret A. Edwards Award, named for the pioneering Enoch Pratt Free Library staff member.
Ms. Blume said in a recent letter, “Dick gave me my career — he changed my life. How do you thank someone for that?"
The writer also said: "I always felt it was safe with Dick leading the way. I knew he was on my side. He nurtured me, encouraged me — I could not have had a better mentor or editor. He taught me so much that even when I was working without him it was his voice heard in my head, asking me the questions that would reveal where I had to go, what I had to do.”
Colleagues said Mr. Jackson was open to new ideas and opened up the field of children’s literature in the 1970s and 1980s. Ms. Blume’s topics included racism, divorce, sexuality and family issues.
Dan Elish, a former Chevy Chase resident, worked with Mr. Jackson on a 1988 book, "The World Wide Dessert Contest.”
“He was like the [theatrical producer] Hal Prince of children’s books,” Mr. Elish said. “He published so many great authors. He was a combination of being smart, gentle and funny. He could be tough too about the work. He cared so much about it. He would work very hard on a manuscript to make it as good as it could be.”
Mr. Elish described Mr. Jackson: “He was sprightly looking. ... Most of his authors became good friends too. We would talk and laugh — it was not all about the work. When you worked with him you felt like you were special, but probably every author felt that way.”
Publishers Weekly said Mr. Jackson edited or published “16 Newbery or Newbery Honors, five Caldecott or Caldecott Honors, one National Book Award, two Coretta Scott King Medals or Honors, one Edgar Award, two Sibert Honors, seven Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards or Honors, one Scott O’Dell Award, one Charlotte Zolotow Award and two Mildred L. Batchelder Awards.”
Mr. Jackson and his wife moved to Towson in 2004 and later relocated to Blakehurst.
“We wanted to be near our grandchildren,” his wife said.
He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma but decided to return to his chosen field, this time as an author. He wrote 12 children’s picture books, including “In Plain Sight."
“My husband loved wordplay,” his wife said. “He knew that kids were attracted to memorable language.”
In a 2016 Publishers Weekly interview, Mr. Jackson said writing helped him deal with his medical condition. "[Writing] gives me energy rather than the reverse,” he said. “I felt a certain urgency to do the work while I still could.”
He enjoyed trips to the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore Museum of Art, and the American Visionary Art Museum. He also attended the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s July Fourth concert at Oregon Ridge. He was a volunteer of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and vacationed at Bethany Beach, Delaware.
In addition to his wife of 57 years, a retired librarian who worked in New York and California, survivors include a son, Adam Jackson of Westport, Massachusetts; a daughter, Elizabeth Albert of Towson; two sisters, Linda Roeckelein of Washington, D.C., and Sibley Classen of Baltimore; and two grandchildren.