In Memoriam Bob Fleck
ILAB is deeply saddened to inform its affiliates that Bob Fleck passed away on the 22nd September, following a short but very aggressive illness. Our thoughts and prayers accompany his family, and in particular his beloved wife Millie and his son Rob.
I first met Bob Fleck in 1998 in Vienna during an ILAB Congress. My husband was then a member of ILAB’s internet sub-committee chaired by Bob. He gave me the impression of a jovial man, yet with a head for serious matters, always keeping in mind long term goals and finding ways to achieve them.
In a previous life, Bob had been a chemical engineer. In 1976 however, his love of books soon had him abandon a very promising career to follow the path of bookselling. Alongside his wife Millie, “For better or worse”, he started a successful business, Oak Knoll, dealing mostly in books about books and fine printing alongside a publishing venture, settling in New Castle, Delaware, a most beautiful and historical 18th Century town. To this day, Oak Knoll has published and distributed over a thousand titles. The American Printing History Association Institutional Award for Distinguished Achievement in Printing History was awarded in 2007 to Oak Knoll, in the person of Bob Fleck, for his valuable contribution to book printing history by making such a quantity of new and old books available to historians, printers, binders, etc.
Bob organized in October of each year - then every two years - the Oak Knoll Fest in New Castle, with lectures and panel discussions on various topics such as book selling, book illustration, fine printing, publishing, etc., providing a great opportunity for enthusiasts in the field to get together, socialize and do business.
He quickly got involved in the running of the ABAA, the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America. He first served on its board in 1982, became Chair of its finance committee in 1989, Treasurer in 1990, and President in 1996. This was when he began attending ILAB Annual Meetings as the ABAA delegate where his qualities were quickly recognized. He was elected as ILAB Vice-President in 2000, and ILAB President in 2002, being re-elected in 2004 for another two-year term. In Paris in 2007, he was elected as ILAB President of Honour for the invaluable services he had rendered.
During his ILAB term of office, Bob worked relentlessly to promote ILAB and establish its presence on the Internet. His favourite words during ILAB Meetings? “Promote”, “Promotion”, “PR”, and what better way than the Internet to achieve this goal? He oversaw the establishment of three ILAB websites, each one more efficient than its predecessor, always keeping in mind the interests of the ILAB affiliates. He never stopped his efforts on behalf of all of ILAB.
As if this was not enough, Bob worked hard into saving the future of the ILAB Prize for Bibliography, through donations from affiliates and an agreement with the Breslauer Foundation with an important donation: the Prize would thus become self-sufficient in terms of capital, the interests generated over four years paying for the award.
A few years ago ILAB needed a Treasurer capable of taking its accounting system into the 21st Century and turned once more to Bob Fleck to take on this difficult and not so enchanting job, which he took on in April 2014. He worked relentlessly during a year and a half, until the Seville Presidents’ Meeting in October 2015, to put all the accounts in order and once the job was brilliantly done … he resigned, having been asked to be more involved in New Castle’s Historical Society.
Alas, he was not given enough time to finish that task.
It is during the Budapest Congress that he was not able to attend that we learnt of his sad demise.
May he rest in peace.
I firstly met with Bob during the Congress of Vienna back in 1998 where our friendship began. I was impressed by his leadership in conducting ILAB later onwards, a leadership that has certainly influenced me strongly. After I had been elected as a member of ILAB’s committee in 2008, Bob and I met twice a year during the Committee and Presidents' meetings. Especially the meetings in Gimenelles, Spain, remain unforgotten. Bob and I had shared a small house just some two hundred meters away from the main house where the meetings took place, and we used to discuss about ILAB matters for hours and hours, although we had already been talking about these issues the whole day long. I will also always remember our visit to New Castle, Delaware, in 2013. My wife and I had decided to show our son a part of the East Coast of the US, and on our ride from Key West to New York we stopped in Delaware. Bob and Millie had invited us to stay overnight in their beautiful home, and we had a great dinner down at the river where we kept on talking about ILAB and the book trade in general. I was deeply honored that it was me who could present the ILAB medal to Bob during our meeting in Seville, Spain, last October. ILAB and our whole profession have lost a more than experienced bookseller and a gifted publisher of reference works, we have also lost a generous friend.
It was only seven weeks ago when Bob and Millie had sent their sincerest condolences to me, as my wife had passed away. I am more than desperate that I have to send now my heart-felt condolences to Millie and Rob. May he rest in peace.
Norbert Donhofer, Immediate Past-President of ILAB
Long ago, when I had just entered the ILAB Committee, Bob kept on talking about this new thing, the internet, and databases, and new ways to sell books, and PR for ILAB. He was met with scepticism but he kept on talking about it and never got tired of explaining what this new thing would mean for all of us, to such an extent that I started calling him “E-Bob.” You could throw him out of the window but he would enter again through the front door and continue. Bob, of course, was right, and I was wrong.
Bob always fought for what he believed was right, was the good thing to do for ILAB, and he did so with solid arguments, sound reasoning, good sense and, most importantly, with a great sense of humour, but he would not easily give up. His probably greatest talent, however, was that Bob never saw problems: every problem was simply an opportunity, a new opportunity. It is undoubtedly that talent which has brought so many good and important things to his business, to the ABAA and to ILAB. He was the last ILAB President to serve 4 years in days where this position had already become a full and mature job. He was never without ideas, never without energy, never without projects, he was undoubtedly one of the best Presidents the League has ever had.
He passing away, much and much too early, is a great and servere blow to all of us and we will all miss him very much. Irene and I have great and warm memories of Bob and Millie and the thought that we will never see or hear him again makes us both very sad. May he rest in peace and may his memory be cherised and kept alive!
Arnoud Gerits & Irene Schouten
I was shocked to hear of Bob’s death. Sadly I never met him personally; New Castle in Delaware was just too far from Newcastle NSW, where I live but he was always a friendly helper in my book collecting purchases and I thought of him as a friend. He was a truly good and decent man. My sympathy to all his family at this sad time. May he rest in peace.
Karl Bahr, Nelson Bay (near Newcastle NSW), Australia
Those of us passionate about bibliophily know that Bob Fleck's passage through this world left us far richer than we otherwise would have been. As publisher he brought many worthwhile references to fruition, and kept a number of the standards in print. His catalogues, in sum, might well form the grandest guide to books about books that has ever seen print. Altogether aside from all that, he was one of the nicest and most knowledgeable persons one could ever hope to meet in the book business. While his loss is felt keenly by all who knew him, it is tempered by an extraordinary legacy.
We were so very sorry to hear of Bob’s passing… One of the brightest stars in the antiquarian bookselling galaxy is now dark… His name was one with the rare book world in our minds, having started our business just a year after he started his own in 1976. A seemingly permanent fixture at the New York Book Fair, he was always happy to chat. His passion for books and dedication to the collegiality of our trade will be sorely missed… Our most sincere condolences to his family at this very saddest of times.
Jude & John Lubrano
I was shocked and dismayed to hear of Bob's death. Although I hadn't seen him that frequently in the last couple of years, we spent several years working on the ILAB Committee together, and he was a remarkable individual. A gentleman, patient and respectful, he did as much for ILAB and the book trade as anyone else I can think of, and with his understanding of computers and the electronic media brought us all into the "modern age". My sincere and heartfelt sympathies to Millie, Rob, and Bob's entire family. He was a good man and will be sorely missed.
I was very saddened to hear of Bob’s passing. I firmly believe that in our era both ILAB and ABAA knew no greater advocate, no more dedicated champion, no more capable leader, and no better friend than Bob Fleck. The magnitude of his efforts to shepherd antiquarian bookselling into the digital age cannot be overstated. His passing is not only the death of a beloved husband and father, a great bookman, and a preeminent reference publisher, but rather a significant loss to the global book community whose shadow will be felt for many years to come.
A rich legacy of contribution, scholarship, humanity and heart. We are fortunate he walked among us.
Paula Marie Gourley
My father once advised, not long before he passed, that “life is not fair”.
Being young and starry eyed I was appalled. Surely you could MAKE it fair?
I soon learned that lesson like a 2x4 to the forehead. In some ways it has hardened me.
But I’m still very optimistic about the future for us all.
I’d correspond with Bob occasionally.
He have collections he’d refer.
This Summer he wanted me to visit to look at a large group.
I scheduled a “beach trip” at the end of July.
I was forced to cancel...
…do it now. NOW. Whoever you think can wait. Call, visit…
I know Bob was thrilled with the Grandfather role. It is sad that he wasn’t given more time for that occupation.
My humble, and I hope not “controversial” opinion, is that Bob may have had more impact on the "whole Rare/Used/Old book World" than anyone I can think of. He accomplished many things of permanent and lasting value.
Some years ago he read a manuscript. “You have a book there.” He referred me to an editor. Much to my regret…
It is a great loss to us all. My condolences to the Fleck family and everyone at Oak Knoll.
Requiescat in pace.
On behalf of the Dawson family I would like to extend my condolences to Bob’s wife and son on his untimely death. I remember speaking with Bob at the California Antiquarian Book Fair in February and enjoyed reminiscing about the early years when Bob had the vision to prepare the antiquarian book trade for the growing tidal wave that was to become internet commerce. I worked with Bob on the initial Internet Committee of the ABAA. It seems like a million years ago now. The issues we struggled with seem naïve compared to the complexities faced today. Bob was a visionary and a leader. He was always calm and collected while bringing news to a group that often believed his message about changes to the trade were coming from outer space. Bob’s focus on the raise of the internet and his desire to prepare the antiquarian book trade for the sea changes that occurred were bold and prescient.
Bob was my first customer. I had a summer job at Seven Gables Bookshop in New York in 1973. One morning, John Kohn, one of the partners, handed me a letter from Robert D. Fleck, then a chemical engineer. Bob asked for a list of the shop’s holdings of A. Edward Newton. Mr. Kohn told me to make a list and send it to Bob. I did so and wrote my first “business letter.” It was the custom at Seven Gables that each partner review the day’s outgoing letters. When John Kohn saw my letter to Bob, Mr. Kohn turned to me and said “Jonathan, it is time you learned how to write a business letter.” I can’t remember whether Bob bought anything from my quotes, but his inquiry was enormously influential in my development as a bookseller. Of course, he had no idea of his letter’s importance to me, but I will always fondly remember this moment.
Jonathan A. Hill
What a shock this has been to us all. Bob was all that everyone has said, and more. He was unbelievably kind especially when I was very young and new to the rare book world. He welcomed me into the fold, even though I was ostensibly a competitor when I was in the bibliography department at Maggs, and was always gentle, polite and courteous and more than happy to share ideas and advice. I hope that Bob’s wife, his charming son Rob and the rest of his family take some comfort in knowing that Bob was so well respected and loved.
Such a void has been created with Bob's passing. My deepest condolences to his family at home and at Oak Knoll. A very sad day. In sympathy,
Je suis bien triste d'apprendre la mort de Bob Fleck et je transmets à sa famille mes sincères pensées. Nous avons été présidents de nos syndicats concomitamment et je n'ai que de bons souvenirs de cet homme jovial et chaleureux. Je regrette sa disparition et je partage le chagrin de sa famille.
Fond memories of such a sunny person. All our sympathy.
Sue and Jean-Pierre Fouques
We are all shocked to hear of the death of Mr. Bob Fleck on 22nd September, due to his illness. On behalf of the staff of Maruzen-Yushodo, Naoyuki and I would like to send our deepest and heartfelt condolences to the Fleck family. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Fleck family.
Shigeru Kuroda & Naoyuki Seki, Maruzen-Yushodo
We sincerely feel sorry to hear the sad news. He was always so kind and nice, and will be missed.
We send our deepest condolences to Millie and his family.
The members of ABAJ
Inspired by A. Edward Newton, Bob Fleck was devoted to sharing his own love of books with others. He was an advocate of book collectors, book collecting, and all aspects of book knowledge. His work made accessible many of the tools that deepened and expanded our understanding of the worlds of printing, publishing, bookbinding, papermaking, bibliography and related fields. He helped found the Delaware Bibliophiles, the Fine Press Book Association, and was a committed member of ABAA and ILAB. As an advocate of libraries he was a regular supporter of the University of Delaware Special Collections. He helped build and develop the community of books in which we now live.
It was especially meaningful for him to have his father, his wife Millie, and his son Rob work in the business and the support of all of his family at Oak Knoll; it was a family affair. He was a great mentor and friend to me and I was fortunate enough to be a part of his work and life. His effort was inspiring and will be sorely missed.
A very sad day indeed for all ILAB Affiliates and a great loss to the Book Trade as a whole. My thoughts are with his family.
Oh, no. Goodbye, Bob.
Sad and shocking news! Bob was a fine man, an enjoyable companion, and an ornament to the international book trade. He will be greatly missed. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the Fleck family.
Rusty and Veta Mott
Bob (aka "Flecker") was not only a wonderful, multi-talented, generous person (whom I first met about 1977), his many inspired workS on behalf of the book world sustained it/us. My saddest and most profound condolences to Millie!
A huge loss to the world of high quality books. Condolences to his family.
So sad to hear of our community's loss of such a capable and approchable person, so willing to help others. My sincere condolences to his family.
Book lovers will miss Bob Fleck. His offerings brought distinction to our shelves, and their content enriched our minds. May his accomplishment be an inspiration to those who would follow him.
William J. Glick
The demise of Bob Fleck have to be considered a dramatic and unrepairable event for the ILAB.
His place will be simply irreplaceable.I remember him in the presidents and committee meetings giving always clever comments. I was always impressed by his ability to provide keen analysis on many different subjects coming down to the essential on any issue under discussion.
My wife Lourdes remembers how warm-hearted were Bob and Millie with her during our meetings and keeps unforgettable memories from last year at Seville.
I can only say that was a privilege to know him and my wife and I will immensely miss him.
A big hug to you Millie.
Gonzalo Fernandez Pontes
I first met Bob way before his and my ILAB days. An auctioneer and close friend, Dick Oinonen, introduced me to him over breakfast in Boston at the Copley Plaza. We hit it off straight away, a difficult thing not to do in Bob's case. That was some 30 years ago and the start of a long and sometimes alcohol fuelled friendship. Yes, we did share the odd cocktail or two into the wee small hours and felt that we had solved most of the problems of the World. Sadly, neither of us kept notes! We also shared ideas about the book trade and where it was going. Bob was always ahead of the curve. He was immensely patient with those, such as me, who had difficulty keeping up. I soon learned that I needed to keep up if I was to make it in the new digital age and Bob was one of my guiding lights in that. Bob was always there with sound advice, gently delivered, generally with a smile and a joke. There was always laughter with Bob.
Bob and Millie became a major part of our lives when my wife, Hermoine and Millie met at the Montreal Presidents' meeting in 2005. They instantly became the terrible twins, causing mischief and fun at all of the subsequent ILAB meetings. You always knew where they were because of the sound of laughter. Bob would roll his eyes and say "someone should do something about them." We became even closer with Bob and Millie staying with us a few times and Millie nursing Hermoine through a tummy bug at the Delaware meeting. The corridors of the Wilmington Hospital started to ring with Hermoine and Millie's laughter and we knew that the mini crisis was over .Always laughter with Bob and Millie and always great company. For me besides the friendship I took away something that has held me in good stead ever since. And that is Bob's incredible clear sighted business sense. I loved the way he chaired meetings, always making sure that everyone had a say. He would then summarise; typically saying something like, "So what I'm hearing from you is that you would like us to do ... ......." His summation was always bang on target and always refocused everyone's mind and purpose. A rare skill.
I try to adopt it myself, although with somewhat less success. My technique is simple; I hear Bob's voice in my mind delivering the idea and it helps me to organise the thoughts properly. The last time I saw Bob was at the New York Book Fair. He was hale and hearty as ever and with Rob we shared an excellent dinner. Life can be cruel and losing Bob so unexpectedly has left us in shock. It's too big an event to comprehend. I will miss Bob's company, good advice and laughter terribly and Hermoine and I send all of our love to his grieving family.
Farewell Cap'n Bob
Adrian and Hermoine
Adrian Harrington Rare Books ABA. ILAB. PBFA
I am Tom the middle and now eldest son in the estimable Fleck Family. My wife Sylvia, Tom Jr and Gwyneth thank you all for adding to the tribute that continued throughout the book fest.
My heart is broken as Bob was always there (and usually a step or two ahead in thought process) for me as a mentor, friend, and leader. I participated in the seminal activities of Oak Knoll Books including running proofs to the printer and licking the stamps for the first Catalogue with Bob muttering "I hope something sells in there".
I continued to track Bob's accomplishments after opting for a career in the financial world. After all it was Bob's suggestion that I earn an MBA as a ticket to doing something more challenging yet rewarding. Boy was he right.
Bob was always focused on having and being the best - Austin-Healy 3000 at age 20? Bridge Master at age 22? Small plane co-owner and pilot? Why not?
And for an outward appearance tending toward conservative, Bob was a Hell of a successful risk taker. He understood the benefits of leverage at an early age.
Bob only got really mad at me two times and hindsight shows how spot on he was in assessing my actions.
Our annual best special occasion is XMAS dinner at Bob and Millie's house with Bob spreading good cheer from the end seat with me always stationed directly to
his left. We'll keep the seat open for you Bob!
Dear Bob, you have guided ILAB into the internet-age. And when I think of our common years in the ILAB committee I always hear your voice: „We have to work hard on it!“
And I will always think oft he days when you and Millie sat with the committee members in your garden in New Castle.
We had good times! And I could not believe that we would not meet again ever more! Goodbye!
Antiquariat Galerie Tausch
I have to believe that Bob left this world a happy man. I first met Bob at the nexus of his life, just when he was leaving his job as a chemical engineer to flee into the rarified world of books about books. Bob was visiting his retired parents in the next town over from where my bookshop was then. He was eager and optimistic. I thought he was going into a specialty that was already crowded. I did not foresee the colossus he would become as he conquered both the in-print and out-of-print sectors. And along the way he gave back to the trade with his inexhaustible dedication to the global challenges of the rare book world. Everyone he met was better for it. My condolences to his family and friends
Like the rest of the trade, I was shocked to hear of Bob Fleck’s passing on 22 Sept. He was only a few months older than I. A sobering, depressing fact.
I first met Bob in, I believe, late 2001, when I was at an ILAB meeting. I was stunned to soon after get a phone call asking me to serve as ILAB General Secretary. I immediately declined on the grounds of incompetence, but Bob can be persuasive, so I gave in and agreed. I then served two terms in that office (2002-05) under Bob Fleck, President. He was the first American President in over 40 years, which was justifiably the source of some sourness within ABAA, by far ILAB’s largest member. Bob was very dynamic and worked very hard to promote ILAB. He ushered us into the age of the internet, hiring Rockingstone from the Netherlands to be our web master and build us a searchable website. This was achieved despite some scepticism and resistance from some ILAB members. We started a stolen books database, which project was on my shoulders. It was pretty lively at the beginning as we had more than one fraudster trying to game us. He secured stable funding for the bibliography prize. He worked his Committee to death (this was before ILAB had the extremely able Nevine Marchiset as a full time Secretary). Yours truly knew almost nothing about word processing - or computers in general - and preparing the minutes of numerous meetings, and reams of other paperwork, was a real challenge for me, to say the least. He was always thinking of things to improve our lot, was never static.
A couple of memories stand out: Bob playing a furious game of tennis against Robert Frew at a resort in the Laurentians in early autumn at the time of the Presidents’ Meeting in Montréal. He was pretty agile for a short, stocky guy. It was a gorgeous day, the leaves beginning to turn in the low hills, some of us having a swim in a cold lake, relieving the tension of travel and meetings. When the planned ILAB Congress in the USA fell through, he generously arranged for the Presidents to meet at his home in New Castle. One of the events was a cruise on the historic Delaware River in a boat tricked out as a pirate ship. Being booksellers, some of us found that a certain amount of role-playing came naturally. As a fellow North American with a similar vision about the internet, Bob and I were allies. A couple of times Bob phoned me to more or less hold his hand when he was feeling a bit insecure, wondering if the Committee hated him. I always told him “Bob, you are my President and I am your lieutenant. Unless you propose something really screwy, you will always have my support.” I felt really honoured to receive those calls.
Robert D. Fleck, Jr. was one of the giants of my generation of booksellers. He achieved so very much in his too-short life. We are all very grateful for the fact of Bob Fleck’s time among us. Let us think of all he did for the trade and not be too sad to lose him now. A great man, a great life.
Steven Temple of Steven Temple Books