In Memoriam: Gobin Stair
December 01, 2008
Gobin Stair, former Director of Beacon Press, died last Wednesday, November 26, at the age of 96. Stair joined Beacon initially as Production Manager before taking over as Director in 1962, a position he held until his retirement in 1975. The books published during Stair's tenure speak to his courage and convictions as a staunch advocate of free speech and essential inquiry.
While Beacon published many important books during Stair's years at the helm—including works by Victor Frankl, Mary Daly, Herbert Marcuse, and Paul Robeson—it is perhaps the publication of the Senator Gravel edition of the Pentagon Papers: The Defense Department History of United States Decisionmaking on Vietnam that brought him the most scrutiny and acclaim. The 7,000 page Pentagon Papers "documented the lies and cover-ups used by the U.S. government to maintain the war in Vietnam and public support of that war," and were read by Senator Mike Gravel into his Senate subcommittee records before being turned over to the Washington Post and New York Times and excerpted in both papers ("A Brief History of Beacon Press," by Susan Wilson, available in full here). Publication of the complete Pentagon Papers was logistically and legally daunting—the papers ultimately constituted a four-volume set and were published in spite of governmental efforts at suppression. Richard Nixon even called Stair at home to discourage against it, but the call from the President had the opposite of its desired effect, as Stair later recounted that being "told by Nixon... not to do it, convinced me before I had [completely] decided, that it was a book to do." (Quoted in "Beacon Press and the Pentagon Papers" by Allison Trzop, available in full here.)
Stair and former UUA President Robert West spoke at the Arlington Street Church in Boston in 2002 about the publication of the Pentagon Papers. West, Gravel, and whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg appeared on Democracy Now! in 2007 to talk about the process of publication as well.
Stair was also an artist and graphic designer, and examples of his murals can be found in the Public Library and the First Congregational Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Kingston, MA. He was a prolific book illustrator, and his paintings were shown in many galleries in Massachusetts.
Beacon Press was enriched by Gobin Stair's term as Director, and his leadership during the Vietnam War era made Beacon a vital voice for freedom of the press and the movement to end to the war. All of us at Beacon Press are grateful for his legacy and mourn his passing.
Portrait by Edward Nute, used with permission of the photographer.