Robert S. Friedman

by | Feb 18, 2019 | Obituaries

Charlottesville, Va.—Robert S. Friedman, born February 15, 1942, lived a long and peaceful life devoted to inspiring the best in others. He passed away without pain on January 7, 2019 in his mountain home near Charlottesville, Virginia, surrounded by the trees and hills of the town he treasured.

During his surprise illness—a very rare and rapid neurodegenerative prion disease—Robert (called Bob by those close to him) was tenderly taken care of by his beloved Beth Hines and visited often by his friends and adoring family. He was a man of deep spiritual conviction who showed love and generosity towards everyone in his life, as well as those in need. A sophisticated man of letters, Bob devoted his professional life to publishing books that would provide help and enlightenment to his readers.

He is survived by Beth, his sister Diane Bienstock (Steve); his four children: Jonathan and Matthew (with Donna Reiss) and Marc and Sophia (with Kathleen Shaffer); his cousin Leonard Baker (Sara Sgarlat), and many other loved cousins and extended family. A memorial celebration is being planned for April; for details, updates, and family contact information, please visit

Bob had as many accomplishments as he had years: he was a proud graduate of the University of Virginia (whose long-overdue bowl victory was a happy moment shared with fellow Hoos during his final days), and a member of AEπ. He founded three publishing companies, was a published writer, a teacher, a fine amateur photographer, a film producer, and a much-admired husband and father. He earned his M.F.A. in Writing from UNC Greensboro, and completed two years of graduate studies at University College of Swansea of the University of Wales. He was managing editor for Metro Hampton Roads and proposed the tabloid which later became PortFolio Magazine. For many years he helped organize the Virginia Festival of the Book, where he often served as a moderator and panelist.

Bob pioneered several genres of books, including the graphic novel and the pictorial history. He founded the Donning Company Publishers in 1974 with his wife Donna and his friend Fred Jordan, named by combining Donna’s name with that of Fred’s wife Ingrid. Joined thereafter by the late Stan Hainer, he published revered pictorial histories of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and dozens more, then launched a science-fiction/fantasy line, Starblaze Editions, where he worked with or launched some of the great artists, authors, and titles of the genre, including Robert Asprin (Myth Adventures), Kelly Freas, and many more. With Donning and Starblaze, Bob was one of the fathers of the graphic novel, with the Elfquest series being the first breakthrough success bridging the gap between specialty comic stores and mainstream bookstores. His foresight paved the way for graphic novels as a respected (and Pulitzer Prize-winning) literary form.

Bob formed Hampton Roads Publishing Company in 1989 with Frank DeMarco, and worked with such luminaries as Neale Donald Walsch (author of the Conversations with God series), Richard Bach (author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and The Messiah’s Handbook), Eckhart Tolle (with whom he co-wrote a children’s book), and Linda Goodman, and discovered many critically-acclaimed novelists of the new Visionary Fiction genre, such as D.S. Lliteras, Monty Joynes, and Vernon Kitabu Turner.

After a brief struggle with retirement, he founded Rainbow Ridge Books, which is now carried on by his surviving family. All in all, Bob published more than 1,000 books in over 30 languages, including many international bestsellers. He also wrote several screenplays, co-produced the documentary iGod, and recently had his book with Eckhart Tolle, Milton’s Secret, adapted into a motion picture starring Donald Sutherland.

In all his endeavors, Bob inspired love and loyalty from others. His quiet, gentle good humor and spirit of endless acceptance won him a lifetime of admirers who will all miss him more than even a published writer could express—and if they could, Bob would surely have been the one to publish them.