Don Sobol, the longtime Miami resident and writer, died at 87.
Donald J. Sobol, who wrote more than 80 books, including the popular Encyclopedia Brown
children’s mystery series about a 10-year-old boy detective named Leroy “Encyclopedia’’ Brown, died of gastric lymphoma on Wednesday in Miami.
The one-time New York newspaper reporter and World War II combat veteran, born on Oct. 4, 1924 in new York City, was 87.
“Thanks to Donald, generations of children have learned to read and solve mysteries alongside Encyclopedia Brown, one of the most iconic characters in children’s literature,’’ Don Weisberg, president, Penguin Young Readers Group, said in a statement.
Sobol’s work, translated into a dozen languages, won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1976. He began the 30-book Encyclopedia Brown
series in 1963, six years after the publication of his first book, The Double Quest.
The final book in the series, Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Soccer Scheme,
will be published in October by Penguin.
The idea for Encyclopedia Brown came to Sobol when he was researching an article at the New York Public Library, “and a game book was handed to him in error by a desk clerk,’’ according to a statement from his publisher. “The book had puzzles on one side of the page and solutions on the other. He thought, ‘Why not write a mystery series with the same sort of premise?’ ’’
Sobol was educated at New York’s prestigious Ethical Culture Fieldston School, then Oberlin College, from which he graduated in 1948 with a bachelor’s degree in English. He had interrupted his education in 1942 to enlist in U.S. Army, and served in the Pacific with the Army Corps of Engineers.
Sobol married the former Rose Tiplitz in 1955. They moved to South Miami in 1961.
There, he led an intentionally quiet, family-centered life, said son John Sobol. It’s what he wanted as “a very private man who didn’t want to be famous.”
He enjoyed tennis, gardening and collecting antique automobiles, including a 1930s-era Lincoln and a Ford Model A.
His four children were an active part of the writing process, according to son John Sobol, who said their father worked from home and would ask for their ideas. When they were older, they also helped him proof-read, John said.
In 1983, son Glenn Sobol died in a car wreck at age 23.
“It broke his heart,” John said. “There wasn’t a day that went by that he didn’t think of his son.”
Steven Meltzer, associate publisher at Dutton Children’s Books, recalled how delighted Sobol was during a visit two years ago to the New York offices of Pits parent company, Penguin Books, were he met adults who had grown up loving his books.
“Mr. Sobol was just a great guy — he was full of energy and had a booming voice,” Meltzer noted. “He was a good writer and had a wonderful sense of humor.”
As a kid, Edward Necarsulmer I was a devoted fan of Sobol’s work. Nine years ago, at 25, he became Sobol’s literary agent.
“Don had a remarkable talent for empowering kids in his stories and empowered so many generations,” said Necarsulmer, vice president of the McIntosh & Otis agency. “As time changed and generations changed, ‘Encyclopedia Brown’ didn’t.”
The series’ lasting appeal was due to its timelessness and every-day mystery stories. Even though “Encyclopedia Brown” has been around since the 1960s, it has not needed an update, he said, as the books go “deeper than trends or fads of the day.”
In addition to his wife and son John, Sobol is survived by children Diane and Eric, and a sister, Helen Lane.
Memorial services will be private.
Donations in his memory can be made to The New York Public Library: nypl.org/donaldsobol. Checks can be sent to The New York Public Library, 476 Fifth Ave., Room M-6, New York, N.Y. 10018, payable to The New York Public Library, with “Donald J. Sobol” on the memo line.