Oliver Gilliland, Norton Sales Rep, Dies at 54

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Oliver Holmes Gilliland, the national field sales manager for W.W. Norton & Company, died of liver cancer on March 1. He was 54.

"There was no one more devoted to this firm, its people, its independence, and most of all its books, than Oliver Gilliland," said W. Drake McFeely, Norton president and chairman. "His was the face of Norton at bookstores all across this country."

During a career spanning more than three decades, Gilliland championed literary writers from all walks, whether established or emerging -- and the bookstores and booksellers that nurtured their careers. He had a reputation among those in the book industry for his knowledge of books, his passion for the written word, and his consideration for those people who worked in the book world.

Gilliland was born in Topeka, Kansas, and fell in love with books at an early age. He studied at Washburn University in Kansas and Monmouth College in Illinois, receiving a B.A. with Honors in Psychology from California State College, Sonoma. In 1968, he took a job as a sales clerk at Alpha Omega Books in Topeka, becoming manager there in 1972. From 1974 - 1975, he served as a sales clerk at Sonoma State College Bookstore. Two years later, he was named manager of Bookplace, a children's bookshop in San Francisco, and, in 1978, became interim manager of Minerva's Owl bookstore, also in San Francisco. Later that year, he became a sales rep for William Morrow & Co. of New York.

Gilliland joined Norton in 1981 as the sales rep covering accounts in Northern California and the Northwest. He remained in this position for 18 years, becoming known for his deep knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, the books he sold.

"One of the remarkable things about Oliver was the absolute trust you could put into what he told you," noted Elaine Petrocelli, owner of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California. "If Oliver knew I liked a book, he'd move heaven and earth to make sure I could meet the editor or talk with the author. It never stopped with just a sales call. In fact, seeing Oliver never felt like a sales call; it felt like a two-person book club."

Hut Landon, executive director of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, echoed Petrocelli's sentiments. "Oliver was one of the most trusted and most beloved, because of his judgment. When he says, 'This is a book that will sell in your store,' it was because he knew the store, he knew the book, he knew it was a good fit," he said, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

In 1999, Gilliland became Norton's National Field Sales Manager. In addition to his work with Norton, he was on the board of directors of Small Press Distribution in Berkeley, a nonprofit book distributor of poetry and literature. He also was active at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, where he was head of greeters for Sunday services.

Gilliland is survived by his mother, Katherine Parks Pyle of Topeka, Kansas.