Bertram Wyatt-Brown, 1932-2012

Southern historians around the world lost a mentor and friend on November 5, 2012.  Bertram Wyatt-Brown, a legend in our field and an inspiration to all of us at Bowtied and Fried, passed away this morning.  He was 80 years old.

No doubt forthcoming reminiscences will chronicle in long lists Dr. Wyatt-Brown’s many academic contributions to southern history, and rightfully so.  He received both a Guggenheim and a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship and served as President of the Southern Historical Association and Society of Historians of the Early American Republic.  Southern Honor, his best known work, was a finalist for the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

Even more memorable and meaningful than his scholarship, however, were his manner and demeanor.  Contributions to the academic field for Dr. Wyatt-Brown were not limited to publishable work, but extended beyond them like a hand outstretched to young graduate students at their first academic conference.  Old friends and new acquaintances alike were met with enthusiasm, warmth, a broad smile and a wry remark.  In this way the education Dr. Wyatt-Brown offered reached many more students than those he had in his class.  He provided both an academic and a human paradigm to our profession.

There are thousands of students who knew Dr. Wyatt-Brown better than those of us here at Bowtied, and our thoughts are with all of those who feel his loss so acutely.  As so many people remember him in the coming weeks, we would like to share our memory of him as well, a story that so well captures the humility and appreciation that anyone who met him will recognize.

A little over a year ago, we featured a guest blog by Dr. Wyatt-Brown, a memoir of his time studying under C. Vann Woodward.  The piece was well received by our audience and we, of course, considered it a coup: Bert Wyatt-Brown on Bowtied?  We only named the blog after his signature accoutrement, for crying out loud!  What luck!  Rather than demand our enduring appreciation—which he still has—Dr. Wyatt-Brown asked only that we come to lunch with him at the Southern last fall in Baltimore; he wanted to take us out to thank us for featuring his work.  Needless to say, despite having the debt exactly backwards, he insisted.  No one shown that sort of kindness can forget it.  He was a remarkable person.

Southern Character is a most fitting title for a book honoring Bertram Wyatt-Brown: he devoted a career to defining character through both scholarship and action, and he will be sorely missed.  In remembrance of him, Bowtied presents a review of the book, and we invite you to share any reminiscences you have of the man or his work.

This entry was posted in General Commentary, Guest Bloggers, RCP. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Bertram Wyatt-Brown, 1932-2012

  1. MCH says:

    Flags are definitely flying low for Bert this week. I was lucky enough to attend that lunch in Baltimore — at Bert’s last Southern — and I’m glad to hear he was writing until the very end.

  2. James Wyatt-Brown says:

    In my 20’s I was visiting a friend at her parents house in Northern Virginia. It was her birthday and we had a wonderful time celebrating. The next morning I was on the porch reading the NY Times when my friend’s mother started the conversation saying, ” You know, lovie, Warren and I were talking last night before bed and found it curious that your name is Wyatt Brown because Warren had a classmate at Oxford who’s last name was Wyatt-Brown.” “Well,” I said,”actually my real name is James Wyatt-Brown and that would have been my Uncle Bert!”
    Well she got very excited and ran off to tell her husband that the young man visiting their daughter was Bertram’s nephew! From then on they viewed me, not as a young ruffian fresh out of college, wasting his time as an artist and working mans hero but as a relative of a good friend and respected classmate. I instantly became acceptable despite all!
    Warren Zimmerman passed away years ago. He was an accomplished diplomat and was the last US ambassador to what was then Yugoslavia. His whit and intelligence was exceeded only by his generosity and good character. They were so much alike!
    It is not chance that through their inspiration I became an architect , now practicing as a Vice-President of a firm in Miami.
    Thanks Uncle Bert!

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