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.