Longtime publishing executive Clayton “Clay” Winters, former president of the Putnam & Grosset Group and co-founder of Boyds Mills Press, who worked in nearly every facet of the industry over his career, died on December 22, 2019 at his home in Sherman, Conn. He was 85.

Winters was born August 1, 1934 in New York City and grew up in Waterbury, Conn. After attending Valparaiso University in Indiana, Winters earned his B.A. from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.

By 1966, Winters had landed in the book business in New York City, joining Random House as a sales rep. He became assistant sales manager in 1969 and was named trade sales manager in 1972. In the mid-1970s Winters was president of wholesaler Dimondstein Book Company, and in 1979 took the position of trade sales director at Dial Press. Not long after, Winters shifted to Doubleday, initially as director of sales and eventually director of marketing for the company. Another move brought Winters to Simon & Schuster in 1983, when he was named president of S&S’s promotional book publishing division. He became president of reference and promotional books in 1984.

Winters’s major roles in the children’s book arena began in 1985, when he was named president of Putnam Publishing Group’s young readers division. During his time at Putnam, Winters is credited with helping to develop strong author and illustrator talent and with recruiting Patricia Lee Gauch for her first editorial job. Gauch, also an author, subsequently served as editorial director of Philomel Books for nearly 25 years.

Still focused on children’s publishing, in 1990, Winters was named president of Boyds Mills Press, the trade division of Highlights for Children, which he co-founded with Kent Brown (who served as publisher) and Larry Rosler (editor). He stepped down from Boyds Mills in 2009, but he continued to mentor authors, illustrators, and publishing professionals as a member of the faculty for the Highlights Foundation workshops.

Iconic children’s author-illustrator Tomie dePaola, widely known for such bestselling works as Strega Nona and 26 Fairmont Avenue, part of his extensive catalog at Putnam, offered this remembrance: “Clay Winters was publisher of the young readers division when G.P. Putnam’s Sons created [with Peter Israel, former chairman of the Putnam Publishing Group] the exclusive global agreement of which I was one of the first children’s book artists/authors to be included. Clay was a joy to work with, always showing a great respect for we artist/authors. It was a lot of fun to be with him at the national conventions.” Noting that he and Winters grew up in neighboring towns in Connecticut, dePaola recalled, “Clay was brought up in Waterbury at the same time I was in Meriden. We mused that we were probably at the same basketball games as spectators, when our high schools played.”

Literary agent Doug Whiteman, who served as president of Penguin Young Readers Group for more than a decade beginning in 1994, and later as executive v-p of business operations for the Penguin Group, paid tribute to his colleague with these words: “Clay was a good and wise man who always seemed to have the right touch with all those who worked with him, from authors, illustrators, and brand-new editors to the president of the company. He was highly approachable, and I never heard him utter an unkind word about anyone. His is a sad loss for the children’s publishing industry.”