A Satisfying Career Later in Life: Bob Conklin '55

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Bob Conklin ’55 headed Timber Press for 17 years

“On September 1, 1989, at the age of 51, I walked into the offices of Timber Press as the new owner of a book publishing company with zero publishing experience,” says Bob Conklin ’55. The 17 years Bob owned the company were the most fulfilling of this former lawyer’s working life.

Bob’s academic path led from Gabel Country Day School to Dartmouth College and then to law school at the University of California-Berkeley. While in law school he married his first wife, Mary Ellen, and they had two daughters, Christina ’86 and Anna ’90.

After Bob passed the Oregon bar exam in 1965, he joined a small law firm. But after a decade, he became increasingly disaffected with the practice of law. He formed a desire to own his own business related to his long-term passion for gardening and horticulture.

He found out that Timber Press, a small but highly regarded Portland company publishing books on horticulture, music, and several other subjects, was for sale. Although he knew nothing about publishing, he says “I did know something about plants and gardens, and a little about music. I have always loved books and language, and wordsmithing had been very much central to lawyering for me. So it seemed like a good fit for a new career.”

After extensive investigation, and with a lot of faith and most of his life savings, Bob bought Timber Press from founder Richard Abel. He narrowed its focus to books on plants and music, then he sold the music line and added a new line of regional natural history books. Today Timber Press is well known for the high quality of its books, all written by experts in their subject matter.

“Buying Timber Press turned out to be probably the smartest (or at least luckiest) thing I ever did,” says Bob. “I loved owning my own business. I loved book publishing, and the feeling that we were producing something truly worthwhile. I loved the terrific, smart, interesting, well educated, highly competent people I worked with.”

At age 67, Bob decided it was time to move on again and sold the company. He serves on several nonprofit boards including Neskowin Valley School (founded by George Thompson ’64 and Margot Voorhies Thompson ’66) and the Center for Ethics in Health Care at OHSU. He was a trustee of Catlin Gabel in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He’s been married to Janet Conklin since 1992.

A man whose interests seem to turn into passions, Bob immerses himself in plants and gardens (still!), opera, theater, travel, and politics. He took a watercolor painting class five years ago on a lark, fell in love with it, and will have his first gallery exhibition this June. With a fervent interest in anything to do with Italy, he travels there frequently and studies Italian language, history, and literature at PSU.

The legacy of Bob Conklin’s intellect and vision has been made concrete through the more than 800 books he published at Timber Press, many of which have furthered and will continue to enhance understanding of the natural life of the Pacific Northwest.