Founder of New England Monthly, Beliefnet, Dies at 64

Robert Nylen's Friends Say Entrepreneur's 'Heart Was Always in Editorial Side' of Business

By Published on .

NEW YORK ( -- Robert Nylen, the magazine entrepreneur who helped create New England Monthly and later co-founded Beliefnet, died Dec. 23 after a four-year struggle with colorectal cancer, BeliefNet and a family spokeswoman said. He was 64.

Robert Nylen
Robert Nylen
A native of Oak Ridge, Tenn., who was decorated for his actions in Vietnam and later graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, Mr. Nylen began his career in magazine ad sales at Look, U.S. News & World Report and Texas Monthly. He went on to hold leadership positions on the business side at New England Monthly, which he founded with Editor Daniel Okrent in 1984, and Beliefnet, the website about religion that he started with Editor Steven Waldman in 1999.

Writing, reporting and ideas
But friends placed his real engagement in the business of writing, reporting and ideas. "His heart was always in the editorial side," his friend and New England Monthly colleague Geoffrey Precourt told the Boston Globe. He recently wrote a memoir, "Guts: One American Guy's Reckless, Lucky Life," to be published by Random House in May.

Both New England Monthly and Beliefnet received accolades including National Magazine Awards for each. But New England Monthly closed in 1990, done in partly by a slump in New England's economy.

Mr. Nylen and Mr. Waldman initially conceived Beliefnet as another print magazine, but could only find investors for a website along the same lines, according to an account by their friend Joe Nocera in The New York Times. "Needless to say, they decided to turn it into a website," Mr. Nocera wrote in 2007.

'Do the right thing'
Like so many other sites, however, Beliefnet was hit hard by the dot-com bust. Mr. Waldman recalled in a remembrance that Mr. Nylen had led by example, in those days as well as the good ones. "When we were first hitting financial hard times, it was Bob who volunteered not once but several times to cut his own pay," Mr. Waldman wrote. "His philosophy was, 'Do the right thing and, eventually, others will follow.' It was at the heart of the strategy as Beliefnet filed for Chapter 11 (and later recovered)."

He is survived by his wife, Katharine; their daughter, Cassie; his brother, John; and his sister, Susanne.

Most Popular
In this article: