"Goodman native, Lincoln historian dies
NEW YORK — David Herbert Donald, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of the Civil War and American South whose expertise on Abraham Lincoln brought him a wide general audience and reverence from his peers, has died.
Donald died of heart failure at
“Of course, I am devastated,” said his wife of 54 years. “He was a wonderful husband and father and he had a spectacular career as a teacher.”
A professor emeritus at
An award was even named after him, the David Herbert Donald Prize for “excellence in
In 2005, Donald was the first honoree.
He was working on a “character study” of John Quincy Adams at his death, his wife said. “He was a very hard worker, and his family, his writing and teaching were his life in that order,” she said.
Donald published his first Lincoln book in the late 1940s and kept at it for more than 50 years, going back on repeated vows to move on to another subject. His books included “
Some reviewers, however, faulted Donald for insisting on “the essential passivity” of Lincoln, an interpretation that The Washington Post’s Jonathan Yardley found contradicted by the president’s “determination and vigor” in carrying out his decisions.
Donald, the grandson of a Union cavalry officer, was not a
He majored in history and sociology at
“The man who interviewed me told me I could have the job and I went to gather whatever I had and started to follow him out of his office,” Donald recalled during a 2005 interview with The Associated Press. “He said, ’You forget your hat.’ And I said ’I don’t wear a hat.’ And he said, ’You teach in my school, you’ll wear a hat.’ So I didn’t take the job.”
Donald looked instead at graduate schools. His academic adviser at Millsaps was too busy to help, so Donald wrote his own recommendations and was accepted into the
“I looked into my admissions file and it said, ’Admit this man. He has excellent letters of recommendation,”’ Donald told the AP.
Having grown up in a segregated town, he was interested in race relations and planned to study the post-Civil War era. But he also needed money and found a job working as a research assistant to a leading
For decades after
Donald’s mentor encouraged him to write about
Donald’s reputation grew throughout the next few decades as he carefully picked apart the
During his AP interview, Donald acknowledged that he, too, had changed his feelings about
“When I started out, I wasn’t interested in Lincoln, and frankly found him a tiresome old fellow who was rather long-winded, told too many stories, was kind of a rough, frontier sort,” said Donald, who dismissed more recent theories that Lincoln was gay or chronically depressed.
“As I grew older, I realized the jokes and stories he told were really very funny and they always had a point to them. And I watched the way he worked with people and what an extraordinarily adept politician he was. ... He was much more sensitive and human than I had thought before.”
Donald married Aida DiPace in 1955 and had one child, Bruce Randall. The Donalds moved to
In addition to his wife and son, Donald is survived by two grandchildren. Graveside services at