In March of 2010, New Orleans area based Pelican Publishing Company, Inc., celebrated the fortieth anniversary of publisher and president Dr. Milburn Calhoun. Today we mourn his passing.
A bookman, publisher, philanthropist, and retired physician, he died Saturday, January 7, 2012, at West Jefferson Hospital in New Orleans following a lengthy illness. He was eighty-one. Visiting takes place today, Monday, January 9, 2012, from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. with a service immediately following at Oak Park Baptist Church, 1110 Kabel Drive, New Orleans. Additional services will be held Thursday, January 12, 2012, at Kilpatrick Funeral Home, West Monroe, La., with visitation from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. with a service and interment immediately following at Sibley Cemetery in Choudrant, La.
Born in West Monroe, on January 15, 1930, he was a graduate of Ouachita Parish High School, 1947; Northeast Junior College, 1949; Louisiana State University, 1951; and the LSU School of Medicine, 1955. After an internship at New Orleans Charity Hospital, 1955-56, he practiced medicine in Buras for nine years, interrupted by two years in the United States Air Force where he attained the rank of major. He practiced medicine at Nicholson, Baehr, & Calhoun from 1965 until his retirement in 1997. He also served as chief of staff at West Jefferson Hospital. He was a longtime member of Oak Park Baptist Church where he served as a deacon and in numerous support positions.
A lifelong bibliophile, he was a recognized expert on rare books. He founded Bayou Books, an old, rare, and out-of-print book dealer specializing in Louisiana and Southern subjects, and in 1961, he opened a Gretna bookstore by the same name. In 1970, he and family members acquired Pelican Publishing Company, a small New Orleans book publishing company that they relocated to Gretna. Publishing standouts include the blockbuster success of motivational titles such as Zig Ziglar’s See You at the Top and the publication of Cajun Night Before Christmas®. In addition to spawning Pelican’s wildly successful series of more than thirty Night Before Christmas titles and products, the publication of Cajun Night Before Christmas® marked the beginning of Pelican’s children’s book division, which is now the company’s largest niche. Other areas of specialty include cookbooks, architecture titles, the Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year Series, works on Southern history and culture, Civil War scholarship, black studies, and books covering every aspect of life in Louisiana.
“We were not a people of means,” Dr. Calhoun said, describing the challenge of purchasing a bankrupt publishing house, “so we did it the old-fashioned way. We published important books that other publishers were not publishing and a large part of the population wanted.”
The model worked. Pelican’s sales doubled each year during the first ten years of Dr. Calhoun’s leadership. Business expanded into all fifty states, and soon the company began to establish its international presence and enjoy global distribution in the sale of English-language rights to publishers throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America. Today, with a backlist of more than 2,500 titles, Pelican is the largest independent trade book publisher in the South. In continuous operation since 1926, Pelican remains a family-owned, independent general trade and children’s publisher committed to publishing books of quality and permanence on a wide variety of subjects.
In 1998, he funded the Mary and Darrell Calhoun Recreational Center at the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home in Monroe, and in 1999, he endowed the one-million-dollar Mary E. and Darrell L. Calhoun Chair in Pharmacology at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. He and his wife established the Milburn and Nancy Calhoun Foundation in 2009 to support religious and educational activities. Donations may be made to the foundation at 9 Muirfield Place, New Orleans, LA 70131.