Stephen Twombly composed music, wrote poetry, and painted. He also was a respected publishing executive who developed and led a variety of award-winning magazines, including Boston Globe Media’s Design New England, where he was publisher since the magazine was launched in 2006.
“He was a total magazine professional, a great connection between the editorial and advertising sides of the business,” said Jill Conners, Design New England’s founding editor. “He was amazingly energetic, friendly, and so likable. People responded to him so positively. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to start the magazine with.”
Mr. Twombly, who worked with consumer and industry magazines during his 35-year career in publishing and also was an accomplished musician, died March 16 in his New London, N.H., home of a brain tumor. He was 59.
Although he began his magazine career selling advertising and became a sought-after publisher, friends knew him as a Juilliard-educated musician who conducted classical performances and composed music ranging from opera to pop.
“He was always at the piano, always composing,” said his wife, Jean, who also is a musician. “He had a gift.”
She said his compositions included: “Septet for Sunrise,” a chamber piece for winds; “Psalm 91” for voices with organ; a violin sonata; and “Durien’s Debut,” a children’s opera.
Composer Richard Einhorn was a fellow at the renowned Aspen Music Festival in 1976 with Mr. Twombly and still recalls an opera his friend wrote and conducted then.
“It was lyrical and heartfelt, very beautiful, and very sensitively written for the voice,” he said. “I have a clear memory of Steve conducting the singers. He was a very talented guy, very smart and easy-going, and also a person who was organized and very together.”
Stephen D. Twombly was born in Summit, N.J., and grew up there and in the nearby Short Hills area of Millburn. The oldest of three brothers, he graduated from Millburn High School and went to Drew University in Madison, N.J., where he studied piano and violin and conducted a chapel choir.
He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music in 1976 and spent two years studying at New York’s Juilliard School .
Mr. Twombly, who also was an accomplished visual artist, decided against pursuing a career in music and instead assembled a portfolio to seek a job in publishing.
While working part time at a Wall Street firm, he met Jean Sawyer, a technical writer who shared his passion for music. They married in 1979 in Chicago, where Mr. Twombly had taken an advertising sales job with McGraw-Hill publishing.
In 1983, they moved to Boston when the technology publishing company International Data Group hired him as its advertising director. A year later he was promoted to publisher and led computer magazines including RUN, Amiga World, and PC Resource.
He left IDG in 1990 to go to what was then Cahners Publishing, where he was national sales manager before becoming publisher of the trade magazines Datamation, Digital News & Review, and Reseller Management.
Mr. Twombly returned to IDG in 1997 to help launch Solutions Integrator magazine.
New Age Publishing Co. subsequently hired him to be vice president of sales and then publisher of New Age Journal. After the magazine’s name changed to Body + Soul, he supervised its sale to Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, where it now is called Whole Living.
About a decade ago, he worked for Weider Publications and Advanstar Communications before returning to IDG in 2004 to launch CMO, a magazine aimed at marketing executives.
“Steve was one of the most energetic, creative, and capable people I’ve met during my 49-year career in the magazine business,” said Patrick McGovern, IDG’s founder and chairman. “I can’t say enough good things about his talent and his integrity. He was just someone people really enjoyed working with.”
Boston Globe Media hired Mr. Twombley in 2006 to launch and lead Design New England. Under his direction, the magazine collected three gold Folio awards and four times was named best design magazine by the National Association of Real Estate Editors.
Mr. Twombly was “new to the design industry when he started with DNE,” said Gail Ravgiala, the magazine’s current editor.
“But he quickly embraced that world, learned about its quirks and challenges, and he loved meeting the people who make it so fascinating.”
She said he was “always looking ahead to find ways to make the magazine better.”
While at Design New England, Mr. Twombly created the Mentors in Design program, known as the Middies, which “honors people in the industry who give back and bring others along in their careers,” Ravgiala said.
“Looking back,” Ravgiala said, “Steve was the ultimate mentor, always ready to listen, to advise, and to help. He always wanted to work for the better good.”
Although already ill, Mr. Twombly attended the Middies award ceremony at the Design New England’s sixth anniversary party last fall.
He belonged to a number of architecture and design organizations in the Boston area. At his New Hampshire home, he read, gardened, and built paths on his property, in addition to practicing yoga daily, painting, composing, and writing poetry.
“He always had a project,” his wife said. “He was really good at pulling all the threads of his life together.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Twombly leaves his mother, Elizabeth Bowers Twombly of Summit, N.J.; and two brothers, Peter of New Milford, Conn., and Geoffrey of Short Hills, N.J.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. April 6 at Christ Church in Short Hills, N.J.
Mr. Twombly’s wife described him as spiritual and as “social, active, and focused.”
“He took very good care of those around him,” she said. “Everyone always enjoyed a conversation with him.”
Kathleen McKenna can be reached at kmck66