Norman Tomlinson, ex-NJM Publisher, Dies at 90

Morristown native saved New Jersey Monthly from bankruptcy.

Although he was a lover of history, Norman B. Tomlinson Jr. was too modest to flaunt all the New Jersey history he personally made as a publisher, entrepreneur, civic leader and philanthropist.

Tomlinson, the former owner, president, publisher and editor-in-chief of New Jersey Monthly, died December 7. He was 90.

A Morristown resident for most of his life, Tomlinson was born into a publishing family. His grandparents, Ernest and Mary Balderston Tomlinson, founded a daily newspaper, the Morristown Daily Record in 1900. Upon the death of his grandfather in 1919, Tomlinson’s father, Ernest B. Tomlinson, became editor and publisher. Norman Tomlinson joined the family business in the mid-1950s, after receiving an undergraduate degree from Princeton University in 1948 and a law degree from Harvard in 1951. He served two years in the U.S. Army Transportation Corps during the Korean War, and was admitted to the New Jersey Bar in 1954.

Despite his legal stripes, Tomlinson was destined for a career in publishing. In 1970, when his father retired, Tomlinson took over the Daily Record as editor and publisher. He quickly expanded the publication’s reach beyond Morris County, added a Sunday edition and updated its printing facility in Parsippany to allow for use of color—an important innovation at the time.

In 1976, the Tomlinson family became one of several investors in the launch of a new Princeton-based magazine, New Jersey Monthly. Six years later, with the nascent publication on the brink of bankruptcy, Tomlinson stepped in to save it, buying out the other investors, one by one. “We were the only ones that were really interested in taking it over,” he later recalled.

Tomlinson took the reins as publisher, effective with the September 1982 issue. He immediately moved the publication to Morristown, where it shared space and resources with the Daily Record. By 1986, New Jersey Monthly, under Tomlinson’s leadership, had enjoyed two consecutive years in the black and circulation had rebounded above 100,000, the previous highwater mark. The following year, Tomlinson took the company out of the newspaper business, selling the Daily Record to the Goodson Newspaper Group. (In 1998, Goodson flipped it to current owner Gannett.)

In 1988, Tomlinson brought his daughter, Kate S. Tomlinson, onboard as publisher of the magazine. She soon added the title of editor-in-chief. Tomlinson retained the title of president and ran the publication in tandem with his daughter until his retirement in early 2004.

Over the years, Tomlinson was active in and supportive of many New Jersey organizations, and often took a stand on important civic issues. He was instrumental in the founding of the County College of Morris, using the Daily Record to help rally community support. He served as president of the Morris County Chamber of Commerce and the 200 Club of Morristown, and was chairman of the Morristown Airport Commission.

He also served as chairman of the Morristown-Morris Township Free Public Library, where he was an enthusiastic visitor of the history collection.

Tomlinson had a lifelong fascination with history, especially military history. He actively supported the Society for Military History and the Abraham Lincoln Association; was one of the organizers and served as secretary of the New Jersey Civil War Round Table; and was a member of and served on the advisory board of the Civil War Preservation Trust, which raises money for battlefield preservation. He was a member and director of the Western Front Association and endowed the Norman B. Tomlinson Jr. Book Prize, which is awarded annually for the best English-language work of history on the World War I era.

Tomlinson served as a trustee of the Peck School, from which he graduated in 1940, and also of the Pingry School for many years. He also supported local hospitals, the Morristown Medical Center in particular.

In addition to his daughter Kate, who continues as publisher and editor-in-chief of New Jersey Monthly, Tomlinson is survived by his wife, Barbara Dydek Tomlinson; Kate’s husband, Roger Labrie, and their son, Daniel; and a niece and nephews. He was predeceased by his two younger sisters, Jean and Diane.

Burial service was private. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the Civil War Preservation Trust or to Vizcaya Museum & Gardens Trust, Inc.

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