Robert L. Bernstein, the former Random House publisher, human rights advocate and longtime Vineyard summer resident, died on May 27 in New York city. He was 96.

At Random House, where he was president from 1965 to 1990, he helped foster the careers of Toni Morrison, Dr. Seuss, William Styron and James Michener, among others.

“Things interested him; people interested him; ideas interested him,” wrote Ms. Morrison in a recollection that appeared in his 2013 memoir, Speaking Freely, of meeting Mr. Bernstein for the first time.

He also created a platform for political dissidents internationally including the Russian nuclear physicist and peace activist Andrei Sakharov and the Czech writer and former president Vaclav Havel.

“There are certain things you just do, and when you look back you don’t know why you did it,” Mr. Bernstein told the Gazette in a 2015 interview, recalling his early encounters with Soviet writers. “I decided that Random House was big enough that we could publish these guys, whether they’d sell or they wouldn’t sell. But we could make a statement by starting to publish them . . . we went behind the Iron Curtain.”

His work with dissidents led to his founding of Human Rights Watch in 1988 and a dedication to human rights work that would continue throughout his life.

Robert Louis Bernstein was born in Manhattan on Jan. 5, 1923, the son of Alfred and Sylvia Bernstein. His father worked in the textile industry. He graduated from the Lincoln School, an affiliate of Columbia University, in 1940. After that he enrolled at Harvard, where he received a degree in history in 1944. College was interrupted during the war years; he served in the Army Air Forces from 1943 to 1946.

In 1950 he married Helen Walter, who survives him. They had three children.

After the war, he began his career in publishing as an office boy at Simon and Schuster, rising quickly to sales manager. He lost the job during a round of staff cutbacks, and was hired by Random House.

In the Gazette interview when asked what advice he would give to a person starting out today, he recalled those early years.

“Get into the publishing house,” he said. “Take any job. And from the minute you’re there, start to work to get the job you really want. But get in. Don’t wait.”

Under his leadership, Random House grew into an $800 million company.

In an unpublished 2016 recorded interview with the Gazette, he fondly recalled his early days when publishing houses were small, almost intimate enterprises.

“When we merged with Knopf, I remember the newspaper headline: Publishing Giants Merge,” he said. That may have been what attracted the anti-trust division to come calling, until Mr. Bernstein revealed that the annual sales of the combined companies amounted to $13 million. Regulators were stunned. “We’re here for a $13 million business?” one told him.

He was proud of the loyalty authors showed Random House, evidenced by the years they remained. They included William Styron, 25 years; James Michener, 34 years; John Updike, 26 years, John Hersey, 43 years; and Dr. Seuss, 48 years; and Julia Child, 24 years.

“We didn’t make a lot of money . . . but we just kept doing it as part of our duty as a publisher,” he said. “And while we didn’t earn money, in looking back, I think authors liked us for it and respected us for it.”

Bob and Helen Bernstein had made the Vineyard their summer home since 1986 when they purchased a home with longtime friends on Pilot Hill Farm in Vineyard Haven.

“Dad adored the Vineyard ... it will be hard to imagine him not there,” his son Bill said in an email. He noted his father’s gift for storytelling and the wide circle of family and friends that gathered on the Vineyard in the Bernstein home through the years.

In conversation, he was a fount of stories, ideas, asides and passionate pleas for free speech and human rights, quickly shifting from one to the other. He also had no trouble poking fun at himself. In the 2016 interview, he stopped to explain one digression. “I had the same assistant for 37 years. She told me I had the greatest butterfly brain in the world. It didn’t stay on anything very long,” he laughed.

Despite the many changes that have occurred in the publishing world since his days at Random House, Mr. Bernstein espoused the strong belief that publishers have a responsibility to uphold the principles of free speech.

“I think the one thing I’ve learned — forced upon me — was the importance of the written and spoken word and what it does to our society,” he told the Gazette in the 2015 interview. “I think there is a huge job to be done by publishers, which will never be done.”

In addition to his wife of 68 years, he is survived by three sons: Peter, Tom and Bill Bernstein; 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A celebration of his life will be held on June 25 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers in New York city. Respond to

Donations can be made to the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation.